Cordoba, Argentina, Jul 12: Lionel Messi finally played up to expectations Monday, right in time to help Argentina into the quarterfinals of the Copa America.
After two disappointing matches, Messi produced a great performance to lead Argentina to a 3-0 win over Costa Rica, just when it seemed the host nation was susceptible to a humiliating group-stage exit.
He set up two goals and played at the vaunted level he so often displays with his club Barcelona but which sometimes has eluded him on the international stage with Argentina.
The crowd packing the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes loudly supported the playmaker, chanting “Ole, ole, ole, ole... Messi, Messi.” That was a marked contrast to some of the boos and whistles that accompanied the team's in its opening two games; something Messi appreciated.
“I want to thank the Cordoba people for the way they treated everyone, especially me,” Messi said. “We needed this kind of attention.”
Messi was quiet in Argentina's draws against Bolivia and Colombia, but on Monday he showed why he is considered by many to be the best player in the world.
“Lionel knows how to overcome these situations, he has personality to overcome them and today he showed it on the field,” said Argentina coach Sergio Batista. “He played a tremendous match.”
His runs through the defendse posed a constant threat to Costa Rica and he also thrived on set pieces, just missing with a couple of free kicks.
“Today he played in a different position and had more space when he received the ball,” said Batista, who switched the playmaker to the right side and got him closer to his teammates.
Messi controlled the game for Argentina, keeping the ball at his feet and working his teammates into position to score several times.
He was growing visibly frustrated after each miss by the strikers, but Sergio Aguero finally capitalized on a chance created by the Barcelona star in the 52nd. Messi took the ball at the top of the penalty box and rolled it perfectly to the left for Aguero's shot from inside the area to make it 2-0.
In the third goal in the 63rd, Messi sent a through ball at the perfect speed for winger Angel Di Maria's first-time shot from inside the area.
Messi created another opportunity in the 85th but substitute striker Ezequiel Lavezzi missed an easy shot from in front. AP