Emotional Lionel Messi fights back tears as Argentina welcomes back World Cup heroes

Messi scores 800th career goal in front of a packed Monumental Stadium in 2-0 friendly win over Panama

Argentina's Lionel Messi embraces his sons prior to an international friendly soccer match against Panama in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, March 23, 2023.  (AP Photo / Natacha Pisarenko)
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An emotional Lionel Messi fought back tears as he and his Argentina teammates were given a rousing reception by fans in their first game on home soil since winning the World Cup in Qatar.

A packed Monumental serenaded their heroes before kick off in their friendly against Panama, a match Argentina won 2-0 with goals from Thiago Almada and Messi.

Lionel Scaloni picked the same starting line-up from the World Cup final win over France as they looked dominant from the start, but could not break through the Panamanian defensive wall until late in the second half.

Atlanta United's Almada opened the scoring in the 79th minute with his first international goal after capitalising on a rebound following a free kick by Messi that hit the left post.

Captain Messi finally got his 800th career goal – his 99th for Argentina – and doubled the lead in the 89th minute with a brilliant free-kick that went into the top right corner to excite the more than 80,000 fans chanting his name at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.

"I always dreamed of this moment, to celebrate with you in my country Argentina, lifting the greatest thing that is the World Cup," Messi said at a post-match ceremony organised by the Argentina Football Association to celebrate the country's third World Cup title and first in 36 years.

"Let's keep doing what we are doing and enjoy this, because we have been waiting a long time to win it again. Let's enjoy the third star."

A tearful Scaloni added: "Eternal gratitude to these players. Football belongs to them, and without them we wouldn't have won the World Cup."

Argentina will continue their World Cup winners' homecoming with a friendly against Curacao on Tuesday.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 5:54 AM