Lionel Messi scored a first-half double as Argentina warmed up for the Copa América with a comprehensive 5-1 win over Nicaragua on Friday in San Juan.
The Central Americans, who will participate in this month’s Gold Cup tournament while Argentina battle it out in Brazil, frustrated the home side initially.
But it was left to captain Messi to spark his side into action in their only warm-up match ahead of the tournament, expertly opening the scoring on 37 minutes before grabbing another just 96 seconds later.
Lautaro Martínez, the Inter Milan forward, also scored twice, coming off the substitutes bench at half-time to give coach Lionel Scaloni food for thought ahead of the opening match with Colombia on June 15.
Messi has lost three Copa finals with the national side – 2007, 2015 and 2016 – and the last time Argentina won an international title was in the same competition back in 1993, when the diminutive forward was just six years old. They have reached four of the last five finals.
With Brazil missing the injured Neymar for the showpiece event, which starts on June 14, Argentina are one seen outside their homeland as one of the favourites.
Early on in Friday's first meeting between Argentina and Nicaragua, Scaloni’s team failed to inspire in front of a sell-out crowd of 25,000 at San Juan del Bicentenario stadium.
Nicaragua, ranked 129th in the world and competing in their second successive Gold Cup, will prove a stern test for Costa Rica, Haiti and Bermuda despite this thrashing. They have yet to win a game in two appearances at the tournament – lost six with just one goal scored – but won't go down without a fight.
Messi, however, is a danger for any team and his brilliant run and finish saw the Barcelona star beat three defenders before clinically finishing past Lorente. He grabbed his second soon after when Agüero's shot was parried.
Scaloni withdrew key men Messi and Agüero at half-time, which allowed Martínez, 21, to impress with a well taken efforts on 63 and 72 minutes. Watford's Roberto Pereyra made it five with nine minutes remaining while Nicaragua's deserved consolation came through Juan Barrera's late penalty.