Messi could return for 2nd game: Martino
SANTA CLARA, UNITED STATES
ARGENTINA coach Gerardo Martino expects Lionel Messi to be fit for his team's second Copa America Centenario fixture this week - even if he is satisfied that the two-time world champions are adjusting to life without their injured superstar.
Martino was a happy man after watching the Argentines open their Group D campaign with a convincing 2-1 win on Monday over reigning Copa America champions Chile, a result that should ease their passage into the quarter-finals.
Martino revealed the 28-year-old FIFA World Player of the Year could be fit to return for Argentina's second group game against Panama at Chicago's Soldier Field on Friday.
Although Messi's replacement, Benfica's Nicolas Gaitan, performed well on the right side of Argentina's front three, Martino is not discounting the importance of their absent talisman.
"We're always a better team when Messi is in the team," Martino said.
"Our chances of winning the Copa are always going to be higher when he's playing."
Meanwhile, goals in each half from 35-year-old Blas Perez gave Panama a 2-1 over Bolivia on Monday - a win hailed as "historic" by Panamanians, given they had never faced South American opponents in a competitive match before.
The brace took Perez's career tally for his country to 41 goals in 106 appearances and will have surely ended any debate over whether coach Hernan Dario Gomez was right to stick with the forward despite his age.
Panama has never reached a World Cup final and, while the improving nation certainly has a chance for Russia 2018, that may come too late for Perez.
That will make the upcoming two games in Group D, against Argentina and Chile, even more special for the Panama City born forward.
"Argentina will be hard, Chile too," Perez said. "But our coach just told us - now go and enjoy this Cup."
Judging by the smile on his face, Perez needs no invitation.