Lionel Messi, 35, claimed his 99th international goal from a free-kick after 89 minutes, sending the 83,000 fans at the Monumental de Nunez Stadium in Buenos Aires into raptures; "I always dreamed of this moment, to celebrate with you in my country Argentina," said Messi after the game
Friday 24 March 2023 08:09, UK
Lionel Messi rounded off a night of celebration with his 800th professional goal as Argentina beat Panama 2-0 in their first match since winning the World Cup.
Messi, 35, claimed his 99th international goal from a free-kick after 89 minutes, sending the 83,000 fans at the Monumental de Nunez Stadium in Buenos Aires into raptures.
Substitute Thiago Almada had grabbed the opener 11 minutes earlier after a Messi free-kick had come back off the post.
Manager Lionel Scaloni named the same starting line-up as the World Cup final with the entire squad from Qatar posing for pictures in front of a replica trophy before kick-off.
But they were made to wait for the breakthrough as Panama goalkeeper Josec Guerra produced several saves and the defence fought valiantly to keep out the World Cup champions.
"I always dreamed of this moment, to celebrate with you in my country Argentina, lifting the greatest thing that is the World Cup," Messi said at a post-match ceremony organised by the Argentine FA to celebrate the country's third World Cup title and first in 36 years.
"Let's keep doing what we are doing and enjoy this, because we have been waiting a long time to win it again. Let's enjoy the third star."
A tearful Scaloni added: "Eternal gratitude to these players. Football belongs to them, and without them we wouldn't have won the World Cup.
"Everyone who wears this shirt gives their all and sometimes the results don't come. But this time we got it and it's incredible," said the coach before a victory lap of players and families reminiscent of the one his team did 95 days ago at the Lusail Stadium.
Argentina face Curacao on Tuesday to round off a week which has seen Messi widely celebrated as a hero.