Lionel Messi leads Argentina over Brazil
With a record-setting crowd on hand, Argentina superstar Lionel Messi put on a show yesterday at Metlife Stadium.
Messi's hat trick, in front of 81,994 yellow or celeste-clad supporters, powered Argentina to a thrilling 4-3 triumph over Brazil in a friendly between two of the world's powers.
Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella praised his team's effort.
"The team plays like a whole," he said. "There's not a difference in the team attacks and defense."
It was the largest soccer crowd in New Jersey history for two teams with a fierce and historic rivalry. And fans got their money's worth.
Brazil scored first, in the 23rd minute, when Romulo netted from straight in front off a feed from Neymar.
But it didn't take Argentina long to respond. In what looked like it might be a turning point, Messi hit the back left corner of the net just seconds after Neymar went tumbling, breaking up a clear chance for Brazil.
That goal tied the game at 1-1 and ignited a roar from the Argentine fans. And if the crowd roared on the first goal, the crowd was pushed into a frenzy just three minutes later when Messi did it again -- this time in even more spectular fashion.
In the 34th minute, he pushed through three defenders, then cut left around goalkeeper Rafael Cabral to knock home his second goal. Angel Di Maria was credited with the assist, and Argentina went into the locker room with a 2-1 lead.
"No one's found a solution yet. That's what makes him the best player in the world," Brazil coach Mano Menezes said of Messi. "There are players who you can let play, there are players who you cannot leave any space to play."
Argentine supporters might have felt comfortable knowing their favorite was single-handedly responsible for the lead, but Brazil came out of halftime refocused and tied the game in the 56th minute on Oscar's goal.
Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero was tested several times over the half's opening moments. Overall, Brazil outshot Argentina, 18-13.
Oscar drove through the middle of the field and put a shot in the back left corner of the net.
In the 72nd minute, a deflection off Romero fell right to Hulk, who punched it through to give Brazil the lead back, 3-2.
With time running short, it looked like Brazil would get the best of Messi and Argentina. But Federico Fernandez had other plans. His goal in the 75th minute, assisted by Sergio Aguero, tied the game, setting up what would be a thrilling finish.
The next few minutes became a chorus of "Ooohs" and "Ahs" from the crowd as both teams threatened but could not find the tiebreaker.
Then, when it looked like the game was destined for a draw, Messi stepped up again.
Messi picked up the ball at midfield, dribbled and unleashed a left-footed shot from 21 yards that went in just under the crossbar in the 84th minute for the game-winner.
"I believe he's an exceptional player in an exceptional moment," Sabella said. "It's good for Argentina."
Argentina then survived the rest of regulation and injury time. A fracas in the closing moments resulted in red cards for Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi and Brazil's Marcelo.
For Brazil, it was a tough loss for a roster of players destined for the London Olympics.
"We played to deserve the win today in my point of view," Menezes said. "We controlled the match and created opportunities."