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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Lionel Messi: Winning the World Cup is Argentina's 'dream'

Barcelona forward nets hat-trick in 4-0 friendly over Haiti, and says: 'We're going to leave everything in the World Cup'

Lionel Messi signalled his intent to land the most illustrious trophy to have eluded him in his career, scoring a hat-trick in Argetnina's 4-0 friendly over Haiti and declaring: "We're going to leave everything in the World Cup."

Beaten finalists four years ago in Brazil, Argentina struggled in the qualifiers, only securing their ticket with a win in their final match, but they were far too strong for a Haiti side 103 places below them in the Fifa rankings.

Messi took on his usual role as the star of the show on Tuesday, scoring three and setting up the fourth for Sergio Aguero, who came off the bench to combine well with the Barcelona striker and Christian Pavon, another second-half substitute.

Following the match, Messi was quoted by the Argentina Football Association's website as saying: "I have no doubt that we are going to grow. We have time.

"The World Cup is our dream, the dream of the country.

"We have good players and we are getting stronger to fight as an equal with anyone."

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Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot after 17 minutes before doubling Argentina's lead 12 minutes into the second half with a simple tap-in after Haiti goalkeeper Johny Placide could only parry a header.

Messi completed his treble - his 64th international goal in his 124th appearance for his country - with a tap-in after 65 minutes.

Two minutes later, Aguero rounded of the scoring, driving the ball into the bottom left-hand corner following a pass from Messi.

Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli next takes his squad to Barcelona for a training camp before a final warm-up match against Israel next month. The two-time World Cup winners open their Russia 2018 programme against Iceland on June 16 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow. Croatia and Nigeria make up Group D alongside them.

"In a World Cup, logic is almost never given. We have to aim to win the first game, which is the most important because it will give us peace of mind," added five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"Let no one have doubts that we are going to try everything, as people always ask us.

"We are going with a great squad that is becoming strong at the team and individual level. We are facing a beautiful possibility and we are looking for that."

Peru's Christian Cueva scores against Scotland from the penalty spot during a 2-0 win in Lima. Guadalupe Pardo / Reuters
Peru's Christian Cueva scores against Scotland from the penalty spot during a 2-0 win in Lima. Guadalupe Pardo / Reuters

Peru 2 Scotland 0

Fellow South Americans Peru, meanwhile, out-thought, outplayed and out-muscled an understrength Scotland 2-0 in Lima on Tuesday.

The visitors rarely threatened at the Estadio Nacional in a rematch of a famous 1978 World Cup encounter between the sides that the South Americans won 3-1.

Christian Cueva put Peru 1-0 ahead after 36 minutes from the penalty spot before former Al Jazira forward Jefferson Farfan took advantage of slack defending just seconds after the break to complete the scoring.

The victory was Peru's third in a row against European opposition following friendly wins over Croatia and Iceland, and fills them with optimism as they head to their first World Cup since 1982.

"Peru is ready to face any team in the world," manager Ricardo Gareca told reporters. "This team is prepared to resolve problems that come our way."

Peru are now unbeaten in 13 games but have been drawn in one of the most difficult pools in Russia, alongside France, Denmark and Australia in Group C.

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Elsewhere, Michael O'Neill saw England's World Cup opponents Panama draw 0-0 with his Northern Ireland team and expects the Gareth Southgate's squad to be "too strong" for the Central Americans next month.

O'Neill's side were invited to Los Canaleros' send-off soiree on Tuesday night and though they did not totally spoil the party, they made sure there was no victory for the Panamanians to celebrate prior to their first World Cup.

Panama have now drawn with two of the home nations - Wales and Northern Ireland - since November ahead of their June 24 date with England in their second Group G game in Russia.

O'Neill knows all about how a smaller country can upset the odds at a major tournament, having led Northern Ireland to the last 16 at Euro 2016, yet he expects England and Belgium to take care of business against Panama.

"There's always a chance in tournament football [but] I'll be honest, I would be surprised if England and Belgium don't beat them," he said.

Panama, who also face Tunisia in the group, have one final friendly against Norway in Oslo scheduled for next week.