New Delhi May 31  ‘La Pulga’ strikes thrice as Argentina beat Haiti 4-0 in pre-World Cup friendly; Peru win & Panama play draw

Lionel Messi warmed up for next month’s FIFA World Cup with a hat-trick as he inspired Argentina to a morale-boosting 4-0 win over Haiti in a pre-tournament friendly here.

Messi scored a quickfire second-half double (58th and 68th minutes) to add to a first-half (17th minute) penalty, before setting up substitute Sergio Aguero (69th) as Jorge Sampaoli’s side hammered the Caribbean minnows in their final phase of preparations for the showpiece event.

With this hat-trick, the FC Barcelona talisman took his international tally to 64 goals in 124 appearances.

The Albiceleste, who are two-time world champions, had struggled throughout the qualifying campaign but the thoroughly dominating display here should boost their confidence even though the win came against a side that has not qualified for the World Cup.

Haiti could not even register a shot at the goal in the whole match.

It was a night of celebration for another Barcelona star as Javier Mascherano joined Javier Zanetti as Argentina’s most capped player with 143 international appearances.

“I have no doubt that we are going to grow, we have time, this team is going to take shape.

“We have been working hard on the physical, I think we have a nice opportunity to try again, we are going to be very excited, as always,” Messi said after the match.

Argentina play Iceland in Moscow in their first match of the World Cup on June 16.

Sampaoli was upbeat about his superstar No 10, saying, “Messi is training very well, he finished the Spanish tournament and two days later he was here, he looks very enthusiastic”.

“Against Iceland we will have to take advantage of the domain, we need a high level of force in the World Cup.”

Peru cruise over Scotland

Peru defeated Scotland 2-0 in an international friendly ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, stretching their undefeated streak to 13 games.

In the Estadio Nacional here crammed with about 45,000 football fans on Tuesday night, Peru demonstrated rhythm and strength against a disciplined but inferior Scotland, with goals from Christian Cueva and Jefferson Farfan, reports EFE news agency.

The team coached by Ricardo Gareca was formidable enough despite the absence of captain and striker, Paolo Guerrero, and was armed with good offensive strategy.

The Peruvians had their first chance to score a goal at 5 minutes, with a free kick by Cueva that was sent to the corner by Scottish goalkeeper Jordan Archer.

From that moment on, it was 20 minutes of absolute dominance by the home team who waited for the right moment to break through the rigid defensive scheme of the Scots.

By the 25th minute, the Peruvians retreated a few meters and chose to make some long passes to Farfan, which, however, did not result in much except for a weak shot from the forward that reached the hands of Archer.

When Scotland had loosened up a bit and made some timid offensive attempts, Peru responded in depth with Farfan anticipating Archer, but his goal-shot was blocked with an arm by Scott McKenna leading to a penalty.

Cueva finally scored a penalty shot at 37 minutes thereby opening the scoreboard in favour of the Peruvians and amid the excitement of fans.

In the beginning of the second half, Farfan received two passes from Yoshimar Yotun and scored Peru’s second goal at 47 minutes despite Archer’s effort to block it.

Peru will depart Wednesday for Europe where they will end their training and play the friendly against Saudi Arabia and Sweden, before arriving in Russia, marking its historic return to the World Cup after 36 years.

Panama held by Northern Ireland

Amid massive support from the public, mostly dressed in red, the Panamanian national football team played out a 0-0 stalemate against Northern Ireland in an international friendly here.

In a festive atmosphere at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium here on Tuesday night, the home team played well, giving a glimpse of what can be expected from the Central Americans at the 2018 Russia World Cup, reports EFE news agency.

Seventeen minutes into the game, as the Panamanians sought the elusive goal Edgar Joel Barcenas did a header which hit the crossbar and failed to translate into a score.

A lost ball from the Panamanian midfielder put the team at risk when at 29 minutes came a header from Northern Ireland’s Josh Magennis, but which landed in the hands of Panamanian goalkeeper Jose Calderon.

Between the 34th and 40th minutes the game fell into a rut with strong legwork in the midfield.