Lionel Messi was very happy to make his return from injury with a second-half hat-trick, though the Argentina captain was quick to praise his team-mates as they advanced to the Copa America Centenario quarter-finals.
After sitting out as an unused substituted in Argentina’s opening win over defending champions last week due to a niggling back problem, Messi made a breathtaking return to the pitch, scoring three goals in 30 minutes to inspire Friday’s 5-0 rout of 10-man Panama in Chicago.
The 28-year-old skipper, whose hat-trick was highlighted by a stunning 78th-minute free-kick now has 53 internationals goals to his name, closing to within three of Argentina’s all-time record.
Speaking after the Group D encounter at Soldier Field, man-of-the-match Messi said: “I am grateful for all this support.
“It was great to be here, especially because of the public. I am very grateful.
“I lost the pain gradually. Then, I managed to make my first goal.
“It was a team effort, in a tense game, with very tall grass, dry. It was tricky, but we got where we wanted.”
Argentina have two wins from as many matches as the 14-time Copa America champions look to end their 23-year wait for a major title, following the penalty shoot-out loss to Chile in last year’s tournament.
Messi, who scored within eight minutes of introduction in the 68th minute, continued: “We are doing a good job, growing little by little. By winning the first two games, it is very good.”