Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s 4-0 World Cup warm-up win over Haiti on Tuesday, saying that the team will head to Russia “with hope” this summer.
Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot on 17 minutes and added two goals after the break, before setting up striker Sergio Aguero for Argentina’s fourth at Boca Junior's stadium in Buenos Aires.
After bagging his hat-trick – which took his goals tally for the national team to 64 – Messi said that Argentina would not head to Russia as favorites, but would “give it our all.”
"More than the result we were able to say goodbye to our fans and show that we are going to Russia with hope," 30-year-old Messi said.
"We're not going as favorites because we had a complicated time in the qualifiers, but we are training well and we will give it our all."
The game was also notable for Javier Mascherano making a record-breaking 143rd appearance for La Albiceleste, putting him one ahead of Javier Zanetti as Argentina's most capped player.
[SELECCIÓN MAYOR] La alegría de Javier @Mascherano tras llegar a los 143 partidos con la Albiceleste: "Feliz de haber llegado a esta marca con esta camiseta. Gracias a todos los que lo hicieron posible". pic.twitter.com/yaqc5t5e3y— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) 30 May 2018
There was also the welcome sight of Aguero making a return from a knee injury, with the Manchester City striker coming off the bench to score in the second half.
World Cup glory has so far eluded Messi in an otherwise stellar career, as he suffered heartache with Argentina last time out in Brazil, losing in the final against Germany after Mario Gotze’s goal deep into extra-time.
Two-time World Cup winners Argentina have been drawn in a Russia 2018 group alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, and open their campaign against the Icelanders on June 16 in Moscow.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, World Cup-bound Peru beat Scotland 2-0 in Lima, thanks to a first-half penalty from Christian Cueva and a close-range strike early in the second half from Lokomotiv Moscow’s Jefferson Farfan.
Peru players had shown their support for banned captain Paulo Guerrero, who has been ruled out of Russia 2018 after he had a ban extension upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, over alleged cocaine use.
Guerrero protests his innocence, and his teammates wore T-shirts sporting his image during the warm-up before the game against Scotland.
The Peruvians will be making a return to the World Cup finals this summer for the first time since 1982, and have been drawn in a group alongside Denmark, France, and Australia.
World Cup debutants Panama continued their preparations against Northern Ireland, and played out a 0-0 draw. The Panamanians face a tricky group this summer alongside England, Belgium, and Tunisia.
Japan’s turbulent preparations for Russia continued as they went down to a 2-0 defeat to Ghana on Wednesday, in manager Akira Nishino’s first game in charge.
Ghana took the lead in the ninth minute thanks to a free-kick goal from Atletico Madrid's Thomas Partey, before Emmanuel Boateng doubled the lead from the penalty spot on 51 minutes.
Ghana secured a 2-0 friendly win over World Cup bound Japan. The Black Stars will play Iceland in their next friendly game next week Thursday pic.twitter.com/6lvM57Bjbr— Ghana Football Association (@ghanafaofficial) 30 May 2018
Japan play friendlies against Switzerland and Paraguay before they open their World Cup campaign against Colombia on June 19. They have also been drawn in a group alongside Poland and Colombia.
Mexico continued their preparations for Russia as they took on Wales amid a carnival atmosphere in Pasadena, USA, on Tuesday, although they were unable to find a breakthrough in a 0-0 draw, despite dominating for large spells.
Next up for the Mexicans are friendlies against Scotland and Denmark , before they head to Russia to face a World Cup group containing Germany, Sweden, and South Korea.
A host of friendlies involving World Cup-bound teams on Monday saw Portugal draw 2-2 with Tunisia, South Korea record a 2-0 win over Honduras, Nigeria draw 1-1 with DR Congo, Iran go down to a 2-1 defeat against Turkey, and France secure a 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland.
A quickfire first-half double from @_OlivierGiroud_ and @NabilFekir was enough to see #WorldCup-bound 🇫🇷@FrenchTeam past 🇮🇪Republic of Ireland at the Stade de France in Paris pic.twitter.com/7TYBRYpUrV— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) 28 May 2018
Saudi Arabia, who will face Russia in the World Cup’s opening game on June 14, suffered a 2-1 defeat against Italy in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The Italians will miss their first World Cup for 60 years this summer.
Hosts Russia ramp up their preparations with a friendly against Austria in Innsbruck on Wednesday night.