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Messi warms up for Argentina's World Cup challenge with hat-trick at La Bombonera

Jorge Sampaoli’s side hammered Caribbean minnows Haiti in Buenos Aires, with their talisman scoring three.

Lionel Messi celebrates one of his goals with team-mates.
Lionel Messi celebrates one of his goals with team-mates.
Image: Victor R. Caivano

ITS WAS THE Lionel Messi show as his hat-trick guided Argentina to a routine 4-0 friendly win over Haiti with the World Cup looming.

With the finals set to get underway in Russia next month, two-time champions Argentina stepped up their preparations thanks to captain a three-goal haul for their talisman in Buenos Aires last night.

Messi took his international tally to 64 goals in 124 appearances – the Barcelona star’s penalty breaking the deadlock in the 17th minute before he completed his hat-trick in eight second-half minutes against the Caribbean minnows.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner then set up substitute and Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero with 21 minutes remaining at La Bombonera, where Haiti did not register a shot.

Javier Mascherano joined Javier Zanetti as Argentina’s most-capped player on his 143rd international appearance and the former Barcelona utility was honoured pre-game.

Argentina Haiti Soccer Mascherano is honoured as he wins cap number 143. Source: Victor R. Caivano

Mascherano was one of five survivors from the starting XI that faced Spain in March’s 6-1 humiliation – Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico and Giovani Lo Celso retained by Jorge Sampaoli as Messi returned alongside Angel Di Maria.

The gulf in class was obvious in Buenos Aires, where 103 spots separated fifth-ranked Argentina and Haiti.

Haiti struggled to contain Argentina from the outset and the 2014 World Cup finalists – who fill face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in Group D in Russia – showed their superiority on the scoreboard when Lo Celso was brought down in the penalty area under a rash challenge from Ricardo Ade.

Messi stepped up and converted the spot-kick but only just after Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide got a glove to the ball.

It was almost 2-0 five minutes later but Placide dived low to deny Juventus’ Higuain, who engineered enough space to get a shot on target.

Argentina continued to control proceedings as Haiti offered nothing going forward and the South American giants went so close to a stunning goal approaching the half-hour mark when Lo Celso picked out Di Maria with an inch-perfect lofted ball over the visitors’ defence, but the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s volley sailed just wide of the post.

It was a relatively subdued start to the second half amid a couple of substitutions but Messi brought the match back to life in the 58th minute.

Lo Celso’s close-range header was saved by Placide after Higuain rode a challenge to pick out the PSG midfielder, however, Messi was on hand to side-foot the rebound home.

Messi was on hand to collect the match ball in the 66th minute when he controlled a cutback from substitute Cristian Pavon and fired powerfully past Placide.

Argentina showed no mercy as Messi turned provider, playing through Aguero to make it 4-0 two minutes later.

There could have been more goals but Argentina were wasteful during the closing stages as attention turned to June 8′s friendly against Israel.

Source: GOLAZO TV/YouTube

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