Gonzalo Higuain does not believe Argentina can take Panama lightly despite Lionel Messi being set to return when they meet in the Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field on Friday.
Panama ran out 2-1 winners in their Group D opener against Bolivia, with Argentina joining them at the top of the group after beating Chile by the same scoreline in a repeat of the 2015 final.
Gerardo Martino’s team had to do without talisman Messi as the Barcelona star struggled with a persistent back injury.
The 28-year-old returned to training with his team-mates on Wednesday and having got through another session the following day without any pain, Martino confirmed he would return for the match in Chicago.
It will be a huge boost for Argentina, and Higuain acknowledged the importance of getting their campaign off to a positive without him.
“We had to win because it’s a tough Copa. Great teams are playing and it was important to start with three points. Then you can let Leo recover and play when he is well,” he told Ole.
The Napoli striker was pleased Argentina started their campaign by defeating the defending champions, but anticipates another trying match against Panama.
“It was an important result, but we must not overlook any opponent. It’s a very strong Copa and all matches are going to be extremely difficult,” continued Higuain.
“We saw a compact and tough team. They are physically strong, with players that play well in space and they are a team that will generate threats.”
Higuain was replaced by Sergio Aguero during the win over Chile and will face competition from the Manchester City striker in order to retain his starting berth, while Messi will likely replace Nicolas Gaitan on the right-hand side of a front three.
Panama boss Hernan Gomez could make changes in with Valentin Pimentel and Luis Henriquez pushing for a place in the starting line-up.
Regardless of who he picks, Gomez insists his team will not be scared of taking the highest ranked team in the world.
“We are not scared of facing Argentina. They are the runners-up of the World Cup and the Copa America, but do not scare us,” he said.
“When you’re working with a team you cannot change the way they have played for two years.”
Having both won their opening matches of the tournament, the winners on Friday will put themselves in pole position to top the group and book a quarter-final berth.
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