Argentina beat Italy 3-0 in La Finalissima on Wednesday evening.
It was a dominant display that served as a warning shot for the rest of Europe – this Argentina team are serious. Many have dismissed South America’s relevance to the modern game when it comes to international football but they will not do that any more.
Because this was a stunning performance from La Albiceleste.
They took the lead in the 28th minute through Lautaro Martinez before doubling their advantage in stoppage time at the end of the first half through Angel di Maria. Paulo Dybala, a late substitute, then put the victory beyond all doubt at the death.
Argentina enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and registered ten shots on target against Italy, a team that impressed so many when they won Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium last summer.
Messi, playing in the free role that Lionel Scaloni has enabled him with the Argentine national team, played with an aggression and desire that will have warmed the blood of even the most jaded football supporters. He pressed like a demon and gave the impression that he will give his life to achieve glory in Qatar.
That is the ultimate goal, of course. Some dismissed La Finalissima as a meaningless friendly but Messi and his Argentine teammates most certainly did not. They realise the symbolic importance that putting on a show means for their team.
Because the World Cup is just around the corner and Argentina will go there as one of the favourites to lift football’s most prestigious prize. They have shown that they can compete with a European heavyweight and only qualified for La Finalissima in the first place because of their exploits last summer.
That was when they beat Brazil in the final of the Copa America at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to win their first title since 1993. Doing that at the scene of the 2014 World Cup final – when Argentina lost to Germany – was hugely significant.
And so was Wednesday evening’s performance. This Argentina team maybe is not as laden with talent as previous incarnations but it appears to be as tight knit a group as any other in world football. They are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
And they are playing with discipline, defending like lions and pressing with intensity. Martinez held the ball up like a world-class nine. Di Maria threatened with the incision of old. Rodrigo de Paul and Guido Rodriguez were disciplined in the double pivot. Emiliano Martinez marshalled his back four and delivered when called upon.
And at the heart of everything was Messi, the man they label the greatest footballer of all time. Many have criticised his performance throughout his first season at Paris Saint-Germain but on the basis of Wednesday he looks as hungry as ever.