Argentina outplay Italy to win Finalissima

Argentina won the Finalissima with a convincing 3-0 win over Italy at a packed Wembley.

First-half goals from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria put Lionel Scaloni’s side in charge and a stoppage-time strike from substitute Paulo Dybala only reflected Argentina’s superiority.

The game between the winners of last year’s Copa America and European Championship was surprisingly one-sided as Lionel Messi captained his team to a deserved victory with a performance that rolled back the years in front of an adoring crowd.

You could be forgiven for being unaware of the history of this competition given that, in its previous incarnation as the Artemio Franchi Cup, it was last held in 1993. Argentina beat Denmark in that one following a penalty shootout. Diego Maradona lifted the trophy.

Player ratings

Italy: Donnarumma (7), Di Lorenzo (6), Bonucci (5), Chiellini (5), Emerson (6), Pessina (5), Jorginho (6), Barella (6), Bernardeschi (5), Belotti (5), Raspadori (7).

Subs: Lazzari (6), Scamacca (6), Locatelli (6), Spinazzola (6), Bastoni (6).

Argentina: Martinez (6), Molina (7), Romero (7), Otamendi (7), Tagliafico (8), De Paul (8), Rodriguez (7), Messi (9), Lo Celso (7), Di Maria (9), Lautaro Martinez (9).

Subs: Palacios (6), Alvarez (n/a), Pezzella (n/a), Gonzalez (n/a), Dybala (n/a).

Man of the match: Lionel Messi.

The only other occasion that it has been staged was the inaugural event in 1985 – when France beat Uruguay – but this fixture was well attended by supporters of both sides as 87,112 filled the stadium.

The Argentinian fans among them certainly enjoyed the celebrations.

For Italy, it was an unhappy return to the scene of their Euro 2020 triumph over England last summer. That was heralded as a renaissance for Italian football under Roberto Mancini but they have since failed to qualify for the World Cup and were well beaten here.

How Argentina outplayed Italy at Wembley

Attacking the end packed with Argentinian support, the South American side produced the more enterprising play from the outset with Di Maria trying an ambitious attempt from distance before Messi struck the wall with a free-kick that he had won himself.

It was the fifth minute before the No 10 had his first touch – cheered rapturously – but with Italy just beginning to get a foothold in the game it was his touch in the 28th minute that led to the opening goal. Pinning his marker, Messi raced away and set up Martinez to score.

The Inter forward was left with a straightforward finish after Messi’s magic but he turned provider in first-half stoppage time with some rather more impressive work. Martinez’s strong hold-up play bought him the space to thread a pass in behind the Italy defence.

Di Maria managed to force his way between the backtracking Giorgio Chiellini and the onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma, proceeding to dink the ball over the goalkeeper and spark wild scenes of celebration among that exuberant Argentinian crowd.

Angel Di Maria celebrates his goal for Argentina against Italy in Finalissima at Wembley
Angel Di Maria celebrates his goal for Argentina against Italy in Finalissima at Wembley

Mancini made three changes at the break – Chiellini, in his final appearance, among them – but Argentina continued to enjoy themselves with Di Maria testing Donnarumma with a deflected shot on the break before forcing a good save with a volley when Messi pulled a corner back to him on the edge of the box.

Giovani Lo Celso should have done better when attempting to turn the ball in from Messi’s centre and the captain himself went close to sending his supporters into ecstasy only to be denied by Donnarumma three times in quick succession in the second half.

Messi, in the stadium where he won the Champions League in 2011, was bringing out the party tricks by then against an increasingly disjointed Italy and he was heavily involved in the third goal when it finally came, Dybala slotting home after another driving run forward from the veteran.

After years of trying, Messi was able to lift another trophy with Argentina – repeating Maradona’s feat of 1993.

Analysis: Messi loving life with Argentina

Lionel Messi for Argentina against Italy in Finalissima at Wembley
Lionel Messi enjoyed himself with a hugely impressive performance at Wembley

There was a time when those in his homeland wondered why Messi was unable to hit the same heights for his country than he managed for his club – Argentina looking on enviously as Barcelona got the best from the best player on the planet.

How that has changed. A season in which Messi’s levels were perceived to have dipped at new club Paris Saint-Germain – even being booed at one stage – has begun with a Copa America trophy and finished with Finalissima success.

Argentina is his happy place now.

This is not the great Barcelona team. On paper, it is not even the best Argentina team of his long career. But it is a team in the truest sense. Scaloni has found the balance that others could not. With a World Cup later this year, who knows where that could take them.

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