Hong Kong: Argentina strolled to a 7-0 friendly win over Hong Kong on Tuesday, with superstar Lionel Messi and Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain both netting a brace. Coach Gerardo Martino started with a second-string side that saw Barcelona's Messi, Manchester United's Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City all on the bench.
Messi came on with half an hour of the match remaining and played a starring cameo role that delighted the home crowd of just over 20,000. By the time he entered the fray the score was already 4-0 but soon the little wizard had made it five, playing a neat one-two before dinking the ball over goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai. He was then instrumental in Argentina's sixth, pulling the ball back from the byline to give Nicolas Gaitan of Benfica the easiest of tap-ins from inside the six-yard box.
With five minutes to go Messi wrapped up the win in style, scoring his second and Argentina's seventh in the match which marked the Hong Kong Football Association's centenary year. The number 10 took the ball down beautifully with his left foot before going past three Hong Kong defenders and rifling it low into the corner.
Shortly afterwards, in stoppage time, the game had a surreal moment when a fan in an Argentina shirt invaded the pitch and handed a marker pen to Messi. The Argentina captain signed the shirt before the fan was escorted off the pitch by security guards. - 'Different level' - For Martino it was a routine but albeit pleasing win, following the 2-0 loss to Brazil in Beijing on Saturday.
"The match against Brazil gave us some questions to answer for the future but tonight it went how it was supposed to go," he told reporters. "The teams are on a different level and we played the way we should have." Sevilla's Ever Banega opened for Argentina on 19 minutes, pouncing on some woeful Hong Kong defending.
Yapp fumbled a weak effort which landed at the feet of Lee Chi-ho who scuffed a clearance straight to Banega, for the midfielder to drill the ball home. Then two quick goals before half-time killed off any chance of a contest. Higuain headed in a cross from the left before Gaitan scored his first, cutting in from the right and smashing the ball in with his left foot.
Higuain then secured his brace and Argentina's fourth with a simple pass into a open goal less than ten minutes into the second half before Messi came on and stole the show. For the managers of some of Europe's top clubs -- including City boss Manuel Pellegrini, United manager Louis Van Gaal and Barcelona coach Luis Enrique -- it will be a relief that all of Argentina's stars came through the match unscathed.
Notable players who didn't start for Argentina included Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano, Martin Demichelis and Erik Lamela. City's Zabaleta joined on 60 minutes with Di Maria and Barcelona's Mascherano coming on ten minutes later. Martino said he had a "strong" squad at his disposal but was always looking for new players, adding that he felt the team had improved since the World Cup final defeat to Germany.