Lionel Messi scored a hat trick as Argentina defeated Brazil 4-3 on Saturday in a seven goal thriller that will go down in soccer history as one of the most memorable encounters between Brazil and Argentina of all time. The game featured the second encounter between Argentina's Messi and Brazil's Neymar after their match-up in Tokyo at the club level in the December Club World Cup Final between Santos and Barcelona. Messi affirmed his position as the world's best player by giving Neymar yet another lesson in the art of footballing magic by scoring three spectacular goals. Meanwhile, the match demonstrated Argentina's position as one of the best teams in the world while underscoring Brazil's depth and reserves of untapped talent.
Playing the last of four friendlies before the Olympics, Brazil continued to field a youthful squad with few players with significant experience for the national team. Coach Mano Menezes opted to start Manchester United's Rafael instead of Danilo on the right flank and Bruno Uvini for the injured Thiago Silva in central defense. Brazil continued their 4-3-3 formation with Hulk, Leandro Damiao and Neymar in attack. Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella started Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain in attack in front of Angel di Maria in midfield.
Brazil took the initiative in the opening 20 minutes by pressuring Argentina in their own half. Oscar picked out Hulk after 15 minutes but the Porto striker's shot was saved by Romero. Brazil's pressure paid off the in the 23rd minute when Neymar curled in a free kick from the right flank that found Romulus in the box. Romulus trapped the ball, turned and dispatched a fierce shot to make it 1-0 Brazil.
Argentina was not to be discouraged easily. In the 31st minute, Angel di Maria split the Brazilian central defense with a terrific through ball which Messi slotted home to make it 1-1. Three minutes later, di Maria threaded another pass to Messi, who rounded Rafael and tucked home his second goal of the afternoon to make the score 2-1 in Argentina's favor.
Undeterred by Messi's flashes of brilliance, Brazil took the offensive to Argentina in search of an equalizer in the second half. In the 56th minute, Oscar played a give and go with Leandro Damiao, who had his back to goal. Damiao saw the onrushing Oscar and flicked a pass to his teammate who promptly dispatched it past the keeper's right hand to make it 2-2. Roughly fifteen minutes later, Romero failed to hold onto a Neymar corner that dropped for Hulk in the box, and the Porto striker made no mistake by dispatching the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a 3-2 lead.
Argentina showed they were finished yet through a Federico Fernandez header from a corner kick in the 76th minute. Finally, five minutes from the end of regulation, Messi displayed his ability to singlehandedly decide the outcome of a game. The Argentine number 10 picked up the ball on the right flank near the center line, beat Marcelo, cut diagonally inside and unleashed a curling strike with his left foot into the top left corner of the net.
Overall, this was a promising result and performance for both teams. Brazil showed excellent teamwork and attacking creativity. Argentina, meanwhile, have to thank Lionel Messi's sublime individual play for the victory. The only sour note about the match was an altercation between Argentina's Lavezzi and Brazil's Marcelo in injury time that resulted in red cards for both players. Despite poor showings at the 2010 World Cup, Brazil and Argentina both look cohesive and dangerous as illustrated by today's seven goal feast from the continent's two titans.
Argentina: 31', 34', 85' (Messi), 76 (Fernandez)
Brazil: 23' (Romulus), 56' (Oscar), 72' (Hulk)
Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Federico Fernández, Garay, Clemente Rodriguez, Sosa , Mascherano, Gago, Di María, Messi and Higuain.
Brazil: Rafael Cabral, Rafael, Bruno Uvini, Juan, Marcelo, Sandro, Romulus, Oscar, Hulk, Neymar and Leandro Damiao
Follow Arnal Dayaratna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/miyazen2838