“We’re not going as favourites but will give it our all,” Messi said after scoring a sixth international hat-trick of his career in Argentina’s routine farewell friendly win over Haiti.
Victory was never in doubt but as Messi added, “More than the result we were able to say goodbye to our fans.”
Messi’s straight-forward hat-trick evidence of Argentina’s still obvious reliance on their captain during a game that for long parts was still painfully one-paced and predictable. The introductions of Sergio Agüero, who added the fourth, and Cristian Pavón gave a boost and in their brief cameos both staked greater claims than Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Dí María for starting roles.
A slow start in a bouncing Bombonera saw Argentina looking to Messi to prise open the Haiti defence but even with full-backs Nicolás Tagliafico and Eduardo Salvio having the freedom to join the attack, La Albiceleste struggled to make an early breakthough.
That was until with quarter of an hour gone, Giovani Lo Celso nicked possession on the edge of the box, drove forward and was clumsily hacked down to allow Lionel Messi to open the scoring from the penalty spot.
Tagliafico, Dí María and Higuaín all had chances to extend the lead shortly after but as the first half dragged on, Argentina’s threat and already casual tempo decreased.
With Messi dropping deep to influence play as much as possible, there was little change from the side that struggled throughout qualification and it wasn’t until the Argentina captain added his second that the breaks came off.
Manuel Lanzini played Higuaín in down the right, his cross found Lo Celso and although Johny Placide saved the Paris Saint-Germain youngster’s header, Messi was there to fire in the rebound.
Sampaoli made further changes during the second half and Agüero and Pavón made an immediate impact. The Bombonera favourite replaced Dí María and within minutes got to the by-line down the left and crossed for Messi to complete his hat-trick.
Messi was full of praise for the Boca forward after the game and admitted that he adds another dimension but with as many assists as he has Argentina appearance, Pavón could be a genuine option to start in Russia.
Sergio Agüero certainly has to after showing more in quarter of an hour than Higuaín had done in over an hour. Linking with Pavón and providing those runs in behind that Messi’s vision and expertise can find, the Manchester City striker dashed on to one such through-ball to slot in Argentina’s fourth.
Haiti, ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings, didn’t provide Jorge Sampaoli with a great deal of new information and Argentina will now depart for Barcelona. An eight-day camp, a friendly against Israel in Jerusalem and then onto Russia for their opener against Iceland on June 16th.