Jorge Sampaoli was in the stands at Racing Club’s famous Cilindro three weeks ago when Lautaro Martínez scored his first senior hat-trick against Huracán and the Argentina coach was back in Avellaneda on Tuesday night as the 20-year-old repeated the trick on his Copa Libertadores debut.
Brazilian club Cruzeiro are supposedly among the favourites for the continent’s greatest prize but couldn’t control Martínez on a night where the Atlético Madrid and Inter Milan target further enhanced his burgeoning reputation, potentially sealing a place in Sampaoli’s Argentina squad.
It took 13 minutes for Martínez to open his Libertadores account when Cruzeiro’s static defence allowed the youngster to latch onto a free-kick into the box and volley the ball past Rafael.
Despite Racing’s almost equally shaky defence allowing Giorgian De Arrascaeta to head an equaliser and rattle the woodwork, Cruzeiro failed to learn their lesson from Martínez’s opener.
A Racing free-kick was worked into the feet of the lethal striker and after bobbling back into his path, Martínez drilled it emphatically into the bottom corner.
Both sides continued to concede chances after the break and Rafinha should have equalised rather than crashing a shot against the underside of the bar before Martínez put Racing in control again. Already showcasing his right-footed finishing, El Toro climbed to head in Ricardo Centurión’s corner.
Robinho cut the lead with a sweetly struck free-kick but it was nothing more than a consolation as substitute Augusto Solari exchanged passes with Centurión and fired in a fourth from close range.
Racing saw Renzo Saravia sent off late on for an ugly challenge but held on for a valuable opening day victory. Both sides have plenty to improve on if they are to be considered candidates to lift the trophy but Lautaro Martínez looks increasingly ready for the next step in his career. That may well come this week when Jorge Sampaoli names his Argentina squad.