Argentina marked the revival of the Cup of Champions in style as an inspired Lionel Messi helped them outclass Italy 3-0 in a heavyweight clash billed as the ‘Finalissima’ at a raucous Wembley Stadium on Wednesday (June 1). First-half goals by Lautaro Martinez and Angel di Maria put the south American champions in complete control against an Italy side who were back at Wembley 11 months after beating England to win the delayed Euro 2020.
With thousands of their supporters in the 87,000 crowd determined to turn north west London into Buenos Aires for the night, captain Messi set up two goals as Argentina proved simply too quick and slick for the lumbering Azzurri. Martinez tapped home from close range in the 28th minute from Messi`s low cross to reward Argentina’s early dominance.
Inter Milan’s Martinez then slid a pass through for Di Maria to outpace Giorgio Chiellini and double the lead with a dinked finish on the stroke of halftime to send the south American fans behind the goal into raptures. Italy had their moments before the break but Argentina could have scored a sackful of goals after it with Messi pulling the strings and Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma sparing his side a drubbing with a series of fine saves.
Meanwhile, veteran Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini played his last game in Italian colours against Argentina. “Right now, we have to accept the result because they were in very different form compared to us. There was a big difference between the two teams. I’m sorry, but that’s part of the game. In this stadium, which gave me incredible joy last year, I’m retiring with a lot of pride,” Chiellini told UEFA official website.
“The lads have to work with their heads down and regain the enthusiasm that they’re missing right now. With enthusiasm, you don’t waste as much energy and you keep a clearer head. That’s the most difficult part. They’ll have to find that as soon as possible,” he added.
It was a disappointing end to Italy stalwart Chiellini’s international career as the 37-year-old was substituted at halftime on his 117th and final appearance.
The Argentina team celebrating and throwing Lionel Messi in the air after the Finalissima as they chant “De la mano de Leo Messi”!pic.twitter.com/WXU8NE4wJI
— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) June 2, 2022
Substitute Paulo Dybala finally underlined Argentina’s superiority with a drilled low finish in stoppage time after another mesmerising run by Messi. “It was a beautiful final, full of Argentines. What we experienced here was beautiful,” Messi said.
“Today was a nice test because Italy are a great team. We knew it was going to be a nice game and a nice setting in which to be champions.”
The Finalissima is the revival of the CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions that has been played only twice before – in 1985 and 1993 – and while it is viewed as something of a novelty, Argentina celebrated as though it was a World Cup final.
Messi, who lit up the evening with a series of trademark dribbles, was hoisted into the air by his teammates who danced jigs of joy on the lush Wembley turf. Argentina, who ended a 28-year wait for a trophy by beating Brazil to win the 2021 Copa America, produced a display that augurs well for their hopes at the Qatar World Cup this year, extending their unbeaten run to 32 games.
(with Reuters inputs)