Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, a
first-half masterpiece followed by two late goals, to give
Argentina a 3-1 win over Switzerland on Wednesday and make a
mockery of the suggestion he only plays well for Barcelona.
The World Player of the Year combined brilliantly with
Sergio Aguero to give his side a 19th-minute lead in their first
friendly in Europe under coach Alejandro Sabella.
Xherdan Shaqiri equalised for the Swiss early in the second
half but Messi struck again in the 87th minute after a blunder
by the home defence and then completed his first international
hat-trick with a last-minute penalty.
Even Switzerland's usually dour coach Ottmar Hitzfeld
managed a smile when asked about Messi's performance.
"It was emotional to watch him, his speed and explosiveness
are astonishing. He has showed again he is the best in the
world," the German told reporters.
Sabella, who replaced Sergio Batista following the Copa
America in July, said he never doubted Messi who has already
scored 43 goals for Barcelona in all competitions this season.
"It's a blessing for us to have Messi in the team," he said
before praising his team-mates for working hard to provide the
playmaker with the ball.
Earlier, Argentina struggled on a difficult pitch against
some rough Swiss tackling in a Stade de Suisse eerily quiet
despite a capacity 30,000 crowd.
One Argentine drum was beaten incessantly and the odd
cowbell was heard while Argentine radio commentators with
rapid-fire deliveries could be made out several rows away.
A bizarre half-time competition on the pitch involving the
throwing of giant dice appeared to entertain the fans more than
Messi had already had a couple of runs at the Swiss
rearguard before his opening goal came when played the ball to
Aguero who backheeled a return for his colleague to slot the
ball into the bottom corner.
Soon after Messi dribbled round the entire defence and
pulled the ball back into the penalty area but his team-mates
failed to read the move.
The visitors enjoyed long periods of possession but were
repeatedly halted by tactical fouls in the Swiss midfield which
went unpunished by the referee including two clear yellow card
offences by captain Gokhan Inler.
Rodrigo Brana, who was repeatedly kicked, had to be
substituted at half-time with a knee injury.
Switzerland fielded a young side including four members of
the team that finished second in last year's European Under-21 Championships.
They equalised five minutes after the break when Shaqiri
fired into the roof of the net.
The move came immediately after an Argentine break where
Aguero burst clear of the last man and appeared to be tripped
only for the referee to wave play on.
Argentina had their worst spell of the match after the Swiss
goal as the service to Messi temporarily dried up, the team's
main failing under Sabella's predecessor Batista.
A draw appeared on the cards until Swiss defender Francois
Affolter lost possession to Aguero on the edge of the box with
three minutes left.
Aguero fed Messi who burst into the area and scored with a
shot which went in off the underside of the bar.
Messi then finished the evening by converting a penalty
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