London, June 2 (UNA): Argentina celebrated the revival of the Champions Cup in style as inspirational Lionel Messi helped them outlast Italy 3-0 in a heavyweight match billed as “Finalissima” at the bustling Wembley Stadium.
Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria’s first-half goals put the South American champions in complete control of the Italy side, who returned to Wembley 11 months after beating England to win Euro 2020.
With thousands of their fans in the crowd of 87,000, bent on turning northwest London into Buenos Aires through the night, captain Messi set up two goals as Argentina simply proved too quick and solid for the struggling Azzurri.
Martinez scored from close range in the 28th minute from Messi’s low cross to reward Argentina for early dominance.
Inter Milan’s Martinez then made a pass through Di Maria to beat Giorgio Chiellini and double the lead with an indirect finish at the end of the first half to send the South American fans behind the goal into ecstasy.
Italy had moments before the end of the first half but Argentina could have scored a large number of goals after Messi controlled the strings and Gianluigi Donnarumma avoided defeat with a series of brilliant saves.
Substitute Paulo Dybala finally confirmed Argentina’s supremacy with a low shot in stoppage time after another impressive run from Messi.
“It was a beautiful final full of Argentines,” Messi said. “What we lived here was beautiful.”
“Today was a great test because Italy is a great team. We knew it would be a great match and a great place to win the tournament.”
It was a disappointing end to Chiellini’s strong international career for Italy, as the 37-year-old was substituted at halftime for his 117th and final appearance.
The Finalissima is a revival of a CONMEBOL-UEFA Champions Cup that has only been played twice before – in 1985 and 1993 – and while it’s seen as something new, Argentina celebrated as if it was a World Cup final.
Messi, who lit up the evening with a series of signature dribbles, was lifted into the air by his teammates as they danced dances of joy on the lush grounds of Wembley.
Argentina, who ended 28 years waiting for the title by beating Brazil to win the 2021 Copa America, made a promising display for their hopes of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, as they extended their unbeaten run to 32 matches.
But for Italy, it was a sobering reminder of how quickly fortunes can change.
Last July, Roberto Mancini’s side were euphoric after winning a penalty shootout against England, but have since failed to qualify for the World Cup for their second successive tournament after losing in a playoff to North Macedonia.
In preparation, Mancini described the match as “the end of a cycle” and the defeat left him in no doubt of the amount of work required to revive Italy’s fortunes.
“They were better than us,” he said. “We were in the game in the first half but we didn’t do enough to change the situation after the break.”