Lionel Messi scored a first-half hat-trick as he returned to his hometown to enjoy an exhibition in honor of his Argentina team-mate Maxi Rodriguez.
Away from football, Rodriguez had a long record with Argentina’s greats at the Marcelo Bieles Stadium – none other than Messi himself on his thirty-sixth birthday.
And the Inter Miami star confirmed exactly why he is so revered in Argentina with a powerful performance in front of the 42,000 crowd – scoring a first-half hat-trick against Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina’s group match.
The crowd even chanted: “Happy birthday” to Messi, and the celebrity mentioned after the sport that it was especially nice to spend his birthday in Rosario, the city where he lived as a child before attending Barcelona’s soccer academy as a teenager.
Messi’s first goal came after just 4 minutes when he fired a shocking left free kick into the top corner.
Lionel Messi scored a first-half hat-trick in the exhibition hall in Argentina on Saturday
Messi had fun as a tribute to former Argentina team-mate Maxi Rodriguez.
The crowd even sang “Happy Birthday” to Messi as he turned 36
He beat the keeper with an elegant shot faster than he hugged him as the ball bounced into the net. For his third time, just before half-time, he managed to over-cross into the penalty area quicker than to send the ball on target.
“It’s been a long time since I spent my birthday in Rosario with my family and friends,” suggested Messi to ESPN Argentina.
Messi also spoke to the group about what it means to win the World Cup in Qatar.
It’s the primary to becoming a world champion, so it’s also special. It’s always special to be in Rosario.
“As I said at the time: it was our turn to become world champions, but behind us there were millions of impressive players who not only did not win the cup, but also did many great things for the national team.”
Referring to his impending move to Major League Soccer, Messi added: “Even though what we’ve done is something special (the World Cup) and unique, every footballer’s dream… you think more than ever about what’s to come .” which you probably did.
“When it’s my turn to leave football, I’ll remember a lot more and enjoy everything I’ve achieved.”
Rodriguez retires at the age of 42, ending his career with Messi’s childhood involvement with Newell’s Old Boys.
Messi rested to pay tribute to departing winger Maxi Rodriguez (left)
Rodríguez (center) had a handful of Argentine stars available to poke fun at his profession
He spent 10 years in Europe between 2002 and 2012, notably at Atletico Madrid and Liverpool before returning to Argentina.
Meanwhile, Messi’s Miami side were beaten 4-1 by the Philadelphia Union in Major League Soccer on Saturday night.
That leaves the group final in the Eastern Conference and raises serious concerns about the group making the playoffs even if Messi joins it.