LONDON (AP) — Energized at Wembley by Lionel Messi's assists, Argentina's players threw their superstar teammate in the air after he inspired them to a second title in a year.
National team success is finally coming for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, late in his trophy-filled club career.
Argentina collected the first Finalissima trophy on Wednesday by beating Italy 3-0 in a meeting of the South American and European champions, with Messi having helped Argentina win the Copa America last July for his first major title with the national team.
And judging by the two assists on his record-extending 161st Argentina appearance, there is no sign of the 34-year-old Messi slowing down with the chance to win a first World Cup title later this year.
“What we experienced here was beautiful,” Messi said. "We knew it was going to be a nice game and a nice setting in which to be champions.”
The opener was created by Messi’s solo brilliance taking him past Giovanni Di Lorenzo and the Argentina captain squared for Lautaro Martínez to slot past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in the 28th minute.
Martínez turned creator in first-half stoppage time by threading a pass through for Ángel Di María to chip Donnarumma, having got past Giorgio Chiellini. The 37-year-old Italy captain came off at halftime of his 117th and final international appearance.
The win was wrapped up in the fourth minute of stoppage time with Messi gaining possession on the halfway line and rampaging to the edge of the penalty area where he evaded Di Lorenzo's challenge to set up the substitute Paulo Dybala to strike low into the net.
It sealed a second trophy success at Wembley for Messi after the 2011 Champions League win with Barcelona over Manchester United. As they celebrated on the Wembley field, the Argentines threw Messi in the the air before catching him.
It was a painful return for the Italians to Wembley Stadium where they won Euro 2020 last year and as they face up to a second successive failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Argentina will head to Qatar in November with another trophy — one created as part of a UEFA-CONMEBOL partnership that challenges the global supremacy of FIFA.
The choice of London as the location for the game was vindicated by more than 87,000 packing into Wembley, with UEFA picking the stadium despite the unrest at the Euro 2020 final caused by England fans.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press