Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to Finalissima success with a 3-0 win over Italy at a sold-out and partisan Wembley Stadium.
Goals by Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala ensured the Copa America champions were able to celebrate more trophy delight after ending their 28-year wait for silverware last summer.
Messi made the opener and on multiple occasions thrilled the 87,112 crowd with flashes of brilliance to show there is plenty of life in the Argentina captain yet despite a difficult season in France.
This was the third edition of the ‘Cup of Champions’ with two previous matches in 1985 and 1993, the latter being won by Argentina to effectively mean they were defending their title after UEFA and CONMEBOL’s recent partnership brought the clash back to life.
Tickets for the Wembley showpiece sold out in April and judging by the noise the majority had gone to South Americans, who produced thunderous roars throughout and especially when their hero was in possession.
It took six minutes for Messi, who struggled in his debut season with Paris St Germain and scored 11 goals for his lowest total in 16 years, to beat an opponent in trademark fashion but the subsequent foul on the seven-time Ballon D’Or winner was only followed by a free-kick into the wall.
It was Italy who should have taken the lead in the 20th minute when Federico Bernardeschi got to the byline and cut back for Andrea Belotti, but Tottenham defender Cristian Romero produced a timely interception.
Giacomo Raspadori had two efforts soon after for the Euro 2020 winners before Giorgio Chiellini, who was playing his last match for Italy, enjoyed a tussle with Messi which ended in the latter winning a foul to huge applause.
The foul seemed to jolt the former Barcelona playmaker into life after he had largely sauntered around the pitch for the opening 25 minutes and the next few minutes were vintage Messi.
A low effort was deflected wide by Leonardo Bonucci following a neat turn before Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from the Argentina captain after he had been the architect of an excellent team move.
It was the 28th minute when Messi gave his adoring following what they had came for – even if he made the goal rather than scored it.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo got too tight to Messi, who spun away and remained undeterred by the Napoli defender’s attempts to manhandle him. After dribbling into the area, it was Lautaro Martinez who gratefully accepted the centre and poked in the opener.
Namesake Emi Martinez was tested immediately after down the other end and pushed Nicolo Barella’s curling effort wide to ensure it remained 1-0 to Lionel Scaloni’s men.
Bonucci’s frustration got the better of him prior to half-time when he received a booking for clattering into Messi but worse was to follow for a side who remarkably will not be at this year’s World Cup.
Goalscorer Lautaro Martinez become provider in stoppage time when Bonucci was turned on the halfway line and the Inter Milan attacker threaded a perfectly weighted through ball to Di Maria, whose sumptuous chip was the icing on the cake to a superb goal.
Chiellini made an underwhelming departure on his final international appearance with the centre-back withdrawn during the interval, which denied the stalwart one final ovation at Wembley – 15 years after playing in the first ever match at England’s national stadium.
Roberto Mancini made a raft of changes but it failed to have the desired effect with only the brilliance of Donnarumma keeping the score down despite wave after wave of Argentina attacks.
Di Maria had two strikes saved by his PSG club colleague before Messi’s outside of the boot pass should have made it 3-0 but Giovani Lo Celso fired wide with the goal gaping.
Messi was desperate to crown his third and perhaps final outing at Wembley with a goal and nearly produced a stunner in the 65th minute.
After Jorginho had been tackled by Messi inside his own half, the 35-year-old dribbled past several opponents before he waltzed into the area but his shot was straight at Donnarumma to ensure this did not make his greatest hits.
Two more efforts were pushed away by Italy’s goalkeeper to ensure Messi would not get his goal but he did have one more trick up his sleeve.
Messi glided past several Italians in stoppage time and although he was stopped just outside Italy’s area, the ball rolled for substitute Dybala to fire home and wrap up a fantastic first visit to Wembley for Argentina since 2000.