Argentina marked the revival of the Cup of Champions in style as an inspired Lionel Messi helped them outclass Italy 3-0 in a heavyweight clash billed as the ‘Finalissima’ at a raucous Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.
First-half goals by Lautaro Martinez and Angel di Maria put the South American champions in complete control against an Italy side who were back at Wembley 11 months after beating England to win the delayed Euro 2020.
With thousands of their supporters in the 87,000 crowd determined to turn northwest London into Buenos Aires for the night, captain Messi set up two goals as Argentina proved simply too quick and slick for the lumbering Azzurri.
Martinez tapped home from close range in the 28th minute from Messi’s low cross to reward Argentina’s early dominance.
Inter Milan’s Martinez then slid a pass through for Di Maria to outpace Giorgio Chiellini and double the lead with a dinked finish on the stroke of halftime to send the South American fans behind the goal into raptures.
Italy had their moments before the break but Argentina could have scored a sackful of goals after it with Messi pulling the strings and Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma sparing his side a drubbing with a series of fine saves.
Substitute Paulo Dybala finally underlined Argentina’s superiority with a drilled low finish in stoppage time after another mesmerising run by Messi.
“It was a beautiful final, full of Argentines. What we experienced here was beautiful,” Messi said.
“Today was a nice test because Italy is a great team. We knew it was going to be a nice game and a nice setting in which to be champions.”
It was a disappointing end to Italy stalwart Chiellini’s international career as the 37-year-old was substituted at halftime on his 117th and final appearance.
The Finalissima is the revival of the CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions that has been played only twice before, in 1985 and 199, and while it is viewed as something of a novelty, Argentina celebrated it as though it was a World Cup final.
Messi, who lit up the evening with a series of trademark dribbles, was hoisted into the air by his teammates who danced jigs of joy on the lush Wembley turf.
Argentina, who ended a 28-year wait for a trophy by beating Brazil to win the 2021 Copa America, produced a display that augurs well for their hopes at the Qatar World Cup this year, extending their unbeaten run to 32 games.
But for Italy, it was a sobering reminder of just how quickly fortunes can change.
Last July Roberto Mancini’s team were euphoric after a penalty shootout win over England but have since failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second successive tournament after losing in a playoff to North Macedonia.
In the build-up Mancini described the game as the “end of a cycle” and the defeat left him in no doubt as to how much work is required to revive Italy’s fortunes.
“They were better than us. We were in the game in the first half but didn’t do enough to turn it around after the break,” he said.
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