Lionel Messi scores twice in return to Argentina lineup in win vs. Guatemala

lionel messi scores twice in return to argentina lineup in win vs. guatemala

Lionel Messi scores twice in return to Argentina lineup in win vs. Guatemala

Lionel Messi scored twice and assisted on another goal in his first international start since November and Argentina outclassed Guatemala, 4-1, on Friday night to complete its 2024 Copa América preparations.

Messi went the full 90 minutes for manager Lionel Scaloni after playing 35 off the bench in a 1-0 win over fellow Copa América contenders Ecuador on Sunday in Chicago.

He previously missed a pair of international friendlies in March with a hamstring issue that has also contributed to his half-dozen absences for Inter Miami in MLS play.

But his sharp performance Friday — in which he also struck the woodwork with a free kick and contributed to a sequence leading to a penalty kick goal — should ease Argentine concerns ahead of next Thursday’s group-play opener against Canada in Atlanta.

Going the distance also gave Messi reps with 15 Argentina field players during the match. "That was basically the idea, maybe to look for something different, a chance to improve," Scaloni said through an interpreter. "Angel Di Maria came in, and he played more on the inside because the way the game was shaping up it gave us the opportunity to try new things."

Lautaro Martinez also scored twice for the defending Copa América and World Cup champions against a Guatemala side that's 108th in FIFA’s world rankings. That included Argentina’s goal from the penalty spot, a role Messi typically assumes during tournament play.

"Leo Messi decided," Scaloni said. "I don't know exactly what happened on the field, if he was asked or he decided to give it to him. This shows how kind Leo Messi can be."

Guatemala took a surprise lead in the fourth minute when Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez redirected a chance resulting from a free kick only as far as defender Lisandro Martínez, who inadvertently bundled the ball across the goal line.

The lead lasted only eight minutes before Messi tied it when Guatemala goalkeeper Nicholas Hagen's errant pass found the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner directly in front of an open goal about 12 yards out.

In the 38th minute, Messi's feed sprung Valentin Carboni into the right side of the penalty area, forcing Guatemala defender Nicolas Samayoa to haul down the winger with a sliding challenge that resulted in Lautaro Martinez's penalty shot.

Martinez scored his second in the 66th minute after Enzo Fernández's ball over the top found Messi, who provided a perfect, one-time service back across goal.

Messi finished the scoring in the 77th, chipping Hagen after playing a give-and-go with Di Maria.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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