Lionel Messi finally played up to expectations Monday, right in time to help Argentina into the quarterfinals of the Copa America.
After two lackluster matches, Messi produced a great performance to lead Argentina to a 3-0 win over Costa Rica, just when it seemed the host nation was susceptible to a humiliating group-stage exit.
He set up two goals and played at the vaunted level he so often displays with his club Barcelona but which sometimes has eluded him on the international stage with Argentina.
The crowd packing the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes loudly supported the playmaker, chanting "Ole, ole, ole, ole... Messi, Messi."
Messi was quiet in Argentina's draws against Bolivia and Colombia, but on Monday he showed why he is considered the best player in the world.
His runs through defenders posed a constant threat to Costa Rica and he also thrived on set pieces, just missing with a couple of free kicks.
He controlled the game for Argentina, keeping the ball on his feet and working his teammates into position to score several times.
He was visibly growing frustrated after each miss by the strikers, but Sergio Aguero finally capitalized on a chance created by the Barcelona star in the 52nd. Messi took the ball at the top of the penalty box and rolled it perfectly to the left for Aguero's shot from inside the area.
In the third goal in the 63rd, Messi sent a through ball at the perfect speed for striker Angel Di Maria's one-timer from inside the area.
Messi created another opportunity in the 85th but substitute striker Ezequiel Lavezzi missed an easy shot from in front.