Watch Lionel Messi turn Italy defender inside out for brilliant Martinez assist as Argentina win Finalissima at Wembley
LIONEL MESSI lit up Wembley as Argentina brushed off Italy to win the prestigious Finalissima in front of a sell-out crowd.
The veteran superstar revealed this week that he has been suffering from the effects of long Covid for much of this year.
But there was nothing wrong with his lungs or his feet last night as he destroyed Italy’s ageing defence before lifting the silver trophy.
All that was missing was a goal to crown a man of the match performance from the little maestro who still remains the greatest player in world football.
Yet Messi proved his class with a brilliant twist-and-assist for Premier League-linked Lautaro Martinez in the thrashing.
This was the first time since 1993 that the Champions of Europe and South America had competed for a title and tickets for the match sold out within hours.
For Italy, it was an emotional return to the stadium where they had beaten England on penalties to win the final of last summer’s Euros.
And fortunately there was no repeat of the disgraceful crowd scenes which marred that occasion and led to Italy’s next meeting with England being played closed doors at Molineux next week.
In fact there was a real party atmosphere at Wembley last night as these football obsessed nations slugged it out to become world champions.
Argentina came into this match on the back of a 31-game unbeaten streak stretching all the way back to July 2019.
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Yet that had not beaten any European opposition during that run and were eager to silence those critics who were saying they could only turn it on against their South American neighbours.
And no-one was more eager to impress than Messi after his unconvincing first season at Paris St Germain.
At 34-years-old this might just prove to be the final time we get to see arguably the finest footballer of all time.
And he did not disappoint his legion of fans when he turned Giovanni Di Lorenzo in the 28th minute to lay the opening goal on a plate for Martinez.
The Inter Milan striker has been linked with a move to both Chelsea and Spurs in recent weeks and this goal will have added a few more million to his price tag.
Italy’s response was as brutal as it was predictable when Messi was wiped out by a cynical challenge from hatchet man Leonardo Bonucci.
Roberto Mancini’s team are still squirming with embarrassment after losing their World Cup play-off to North Macedonia in March.
And Bonucci looked like he was ready to commit murder when his team conceded again in fist-half stoppage time
This time it was Martinez the creator as he sent Angel Di Maria racing clear of the creaking Italian defence before calmly lifting his shot beyond the advancing Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It was no way for 37-year-old Italian captain Giorgio Chiellinio to end his international career after 117 games and 18 years in the blue shirt of the Azzurri.
But that was to be his last contribution before being replaced as one of three half-time substitutions as Mancini looked to chase the game.
It was only last September that Italy established a new world record of 37 international games unbeaten.
But now Argentina are hunting down that milestone and Italy are lurching from one setback to another.
They should have fallen even further behind in the 63rd minute when Messi teed up Giovanni Lo Celso with a magnificent pass with the outside of his boot.
But the former Spurs midfielder planted his shot wide of the open goal when it seemed easier to score than to miss.
It was left to sub Paulo Dybala to give the scoreline a more realistic look when he scored with virtually the last kick of the game following another mesmerising run by Messi.
Not that it really mattered against an utterly toothless Italian team who barely tested Aston Villa keeper Emi Martinez all night.
Paulo Dybala gave the scoreline a more realistic look when he scored
The closest they came was a tame looping header from Andrea Belotti which was easily saved by Martinez.
Two years ago Martinez had played at an empty Wembley Stadium when Arsenal won the FA Cup and then the Community Shield.
This time there was a capacity crowd of 87,112 to witness his triumph. But there was only one man they were all talking about and that was Messi the magician.
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