The announced crowd of 45,753 at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday did not get a great game, but they did get Lionel Messi.
The five-time FIFA world player of the year checked in at the start of the second half with his team already ahead of Bolivia by what would prove to be the final score: 3-0.
As a practical matter, the game was settled in the first 16 minutes, when Argentina jumped to a 2-0 lead. And even before the opening whistle, the match was meaningless to the teams’ positioning in Copa America Centenario: Argentina would win its group regardless of result, and Bolivia would go home regardless of result.
So, Messi’s presence added excitement that was desperately needed.
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“People want to see him,” coach Gerardo Martino said, translated from Spanish. “People pay all over the world to see him. And he has to deal with that. … He has that obligation to fulfill and follow through for the fans who are paying for him to be there. And he lives with that and he understands that.”
The final score — with goals by Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Victor Cuesta — didn’t truly reflect the domination. Argentina completed 757 passes to 61 for Bolivia. Argentina had 82 percent of the possession.
“I think the reason we were not able to increase the final score is because of the defensive capacity that Bolivia showed,” Martino said. “…We were patient, but with this patience we were not slow.”
Even with the game well in hand, Martino was true to his word that Messi would appear. The crowd greeted him with chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi!” and cheered his every touch. Messi in turn accommodated them with some impressive runs and show-offy footwork. The closest he came to scoring was a curling a free kick just wide of the far post from 25 yards. He even nutmegged goalkeeper Carlos Lampe along the endline, although the offside flag already was up.
And while the fans were appreciative, Martino made clear that Messi’s 45 minutes were part of Argentina’s plan for progressing through Copa America.
“Regardless of the result ... after the first half he knew he was going to play for 45 minutes,” Martino said. “He’s growing. Compared to the last game he played 30, today 45. He feels more and more confident, and that’s what we were going to do regardless.”
The result completed the formality of Argentina (3-0) winning its group and sends them on to Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Venezuela awaits in the quarterfinal round. The loss also sends Bolivia back home with an 0-3 record.
Seattle’s run as a Copa America host concludes Thursday when the United States meets Ecuador.