By Luis Ampuero
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Lionel Messi, looking to score his first World Cup goals since 2006 in Brazil this month, went scoreless as Argentina cruised to a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in a World Cup warmup on Friday. Messi missed several chances in the first half, was repeatedly fouled and hit the post with a free kick from which midfielder Javier Mascherano tapped in Argentina's second goal. Striker Rodrigo Palacio, replacing the injured Gonzalo Higuain, headed the opener in the last action of the first half and substitute Maxi Rodriguez completed the win in the 64th minute. Prolific for Barcelona, Messi has only one goal to his name at two World Cups, scored in a 6-0 rout of Serbia & Montenegro on his tournament debut at the 2006 finals in Germany.
He went goalless in five matches at the 2010 finals in South Africa.
"We finished strongly, Trinidad and Tobago were opponents who closed up at the back like some teams in the group will do (at the World Cup)," Messi told reporters.Argentina, looking to win their third world title at the June 12-July 13 finals in Brazil, cruised to victory after squandering a string of first-half chances with Ezequiel Lavezzi, replacing Sergio Aguero who was unwell earlier this week, the biggest culprit. Palacio finally made the breakthrough, heading in an Angel Di Maria corner at the near post in the second minute of first- half stoppage time after Trinidad gave away the corner preventing Messi from scoring.
The pick of the goals was the third with Palacio racing onto a long ball out of defense, touching it past goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams then pulling it back to Rodriguez who blasted it home from a tight angle past two defenders. Concerned not to lose any of his players to injury, coach Alejandro Sabella took defender Martin Demichelis off at halftime after he had taken a knock on his ankle when stopping striker Kenwyne Jones. Another concern for Sabella was Palacio, who came off 15 minutes from the end after twisting his ankle. Messi was paid a curious tribute as players shook hands before kickoff, with Trinidad’s Ataullah Guerra making a flamboyant bow in front of Argentina’s captain.
Argentina play a final warmup at home to Slovenia in La Plata on Saturday before meeting Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria in Group F in Brazil.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ian Ransom)