HONG KONG (Reuters) - Lionel Messi scored twice after coming off the bench as an experimental Argentina side destroyed Hong Kong 7-0 in an international friendly mismatch on Tuesday.
Argentina fielded a completely different line-up from the one which lost to Brazil last week but the World Cup finalists still waltzed to a facile triumph.
The home crowd, some dressed in Argentina jerseys at the Hong Kong Stadium, saved their loudest cheers for the arrival of substitute Messi, who came on after an hour to score twice and make another goal.
With so many of his team mates absent, Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain took the onus on himself to entertain the crowd by terrorising the Hong Kong defence and scoring a goal either side of the interval.
Benfica’s Nicolas Gaitan also netted twice after Ever Banega had opened the scoring for Argentina.
Following Saturday’s 2-0 loss against arch-rivals Brazil in Beijing, coach Gerardo Martino left Messi, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Marcos Rojo on the bench against FIFA’s 164th-ranked team in a match staged to celebrate the centenary of the Hong Kong Football Association.
Argentina goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman and his second-half replacement Agustin Marchesin barely had a touch of the ball between them as the visitors utterly dominated.
Hong Kong frustrated Argentina initially as the world’s number two side pressed hard for an opening goal but a defensive error in the 19th minute opened the floodgates.
Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai spilled Gaitan’s shot from inside the box and the botched clearance reached an unmarked Banega, who calmly converted.
Higuain, denied by a flying save from Yapp 10 minutes later, had to wait until the 42nd minute to head in a precise cross from Leonel Vangioni to make it 2-0. A left-footed drive from Gaitan made it three just before the break.
In the 54th minute, Banega’s defence-splitting pass found Gaitan, who passed square for Higuain to tap in his second goal.
Messi, whose every touch was applauded by the half-full stadium, did not have to wait long after coming on as he played a one-two with Gaitan and finished efortlessly in the 66th minute.
Six minutes later, the Barcelona maestro returned the favour for Gaitan to score his second before Martino, having had the chance to look at his fringe players, added to Hong Kong’s woes by sending on Di Maria and Mascherano.
Argentina continued to create a flurry of chances before Messi, who had missed a penalty against Brazil on Saturday, cut in from the right and sent his left foot shot past Yapp. It was his 44th goal for his country.
Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Ian Chadband