Lionel Messi stole the show as Argentina defeated European champions Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. Argentina surged into a two-goal lead in the first half of the famous friendly, with goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria.
Argentina’s annihilation was topped by Paulo Dybala, but after a dismal season with Paris Saint-Germain by his lofty standards, it was the sight of Messi returning to his imperious best that stole the show.
The 34-year-eye-catching old’s performance, which included two assists, was deserving of his rare appearance in one of football’s great cathedrals.
Thrown into the air by his jubilant teammates after the final whistle, Messi said: “Today was a nice test because Italy is a great team. We knew it was going to be a nice game and a nice setting in which to be champions.
“It was a beautiful final, full of Argentines. What we experienced here was beautiful.”
Argentina has qualified for this year’s World Cup, extending the golden afterglow from their victory over Brazil, which ended their 28-year wait to win the Copa America in 2021.
Argentina had already established itself as one of the top contenders for the World Cup, and their victory over Italy was yet another statement of determination from La Albiceleste, who are now unbeaten in 32 matches.
If Messi can perform at this level in Qatar, Lionel Scaloni’s team will be a force to be reckoned with as they seek their first World Cup victory since 1986.
“Everything changed after the Copa America. Now we are enjoying ourselves and things are happening much more easily. We are excited but must keep our feet on the ground,” Di Maria said.
It was a dismal return to Wembley for Italy, 11 months after they defeated England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.
Since that success, Roberto Mancini’s club has fallen precipitously.
They failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to North Macedonia in the play-off semi-finals.
Mancini is turning to a younger generation following the World Cup disaster, with the next Nations League matches against Germany, England, and Hungary his primary priority.
Mancini’s revamp began at halftime when Italy said goodbye to 117-cap skipper Giorgio Chiellini, who was substituted in his penultimate game before retiring from international duty.
“They were better than us. We were in the game in the first half but didn’t do enough to turn it around after the break,” Mancini said.