CHICAGO, Sporting Alert – Lionel Messi came off the bench to score a hat-trick and piloted Argentina to a 5-0 win over Panama, which secured a Copa America quarterfinal place on Friday night.
Sergio Aguero and Nicolás Otamendi were the other goalscorers for Argentina, which moved to six points from two games and sit atop of Group D ahead of Chile.
Messi started the game on the bench, but came on as a second half substitute to put on a show as Argentina put an exclamation mark on the contest.
The Barcelona forward scored his goals in the 68th, 78th and 87th minutes and then helped to setup a fifth goal for Aguero in the 89th minute.
Otamendi headed home off a curving free kick by Angel Di Maria in the seventh minute to give Argentina the lead, which they took into the interval, but after that it was all about the Messi show.
The fans paid good money to watch the Albiceleste talisman make an appearance and he rewarded them in style.
Messi pounced a deflection off Gonzalo Higuaín to score the first of his triple.
He then doubled his tally and made it 3-0 with a stunning free kick before coolly placing home a shot three-minutes from time to make it 4-0.
It was Messi’s fourth international hat trick of his career, but his first for Argentina since June 2013. He now sits atop of the scoring chart with Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho, who scored a hat-trick against Haiti this week.
The 28-year-old also helped to setup a fifth goal for Argentina after his long pass was knocked down by Marcos Rojo into the path of Aguero, who headed home 89th minute.
“We had to win this game to get the first place in the group and we did it,” he said. “We are happy to get the win.”