Argentina beat Panama 2-0 in a friendly on Thursday with goals from Thiago Almada and Lionel Messi amid a festive atmosphere in their first game in front of their home fans after winning the World Cup in December.
Lionel Scaloni picked the same starting lineup from the World Cup final win over France as they looked dominant from the start, but could not break through the Panamanian defensive wall until late in the second half.
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Atlanta United FC’s Almada opened the scoring in the 79th minute with his first international goal after capitalising on a rebound following a free kick by Messi that hit the left post.
Captain Messi finally got his 800th career goal and doubled the lead in the 89th minute with a brilliant free kick that went into the top right corner to excite the more than 80,000 fans chanting his name at the Monumental Stadium.
The party got started after the final whistle, with family members and children joining Messi and his Argentina teammates on the pitch with fireworks exploding in the background and fans cheering on their champion side, who hoisted replica World Cup trophies.
“I always dreamed of this moment, celebrating with you,” an emotional Messi told the crowd. “To come to my country and lift a Copa America, the Finalissima and the greatest of all the trophies, the World Cup.
“I know this is our day to celebrate, but I don’t want to forget all the teammates who were here before, who also put everything on the field to achieve this and we were very close before. They deserve all the recognition of the Argentine fans because they always did their best for these colors.”
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.”
Argentina will continue their World Cup winners’ homecoming with a friendly against Curacao on Tuesday — when Messi can score his 100th goal for his country — while Panama face Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Nations League.