SANTA CLARA: Lionel Messi, recovering from injury, a late arrival and his ongoing tax fraud case, stayed on the substitutes’ bench as Argentina opened their Copa America Centenario campaign with a 2-1 win over Chile here.

Messi suffered a back injury against Honduras last month but was not needed as Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega scored early in the second half to put Argentina in control before Jose Fuenzalida headed home a late consolation effort for Chile.

Panama beat Bolivia 2-1 in the other Group D game.

Gerardo Martino’s team started brightly and Nicolas Gaitan, drafted into the starting line up in place of Messi, almost gave them a second-minute lead but he could not keep his header down and it drifted harmlessly over the crossbar.

Argentina continued to cause the Chile defence problems and Di Maria twisted his way into the penalty box but pulled his shot wide of the target.

A flowing move saw Argentina create another great opportunity as they quickly turned defence into attack and Banega’s ball into the box was cleared behind for a corner. Marcos Rojo was gifted acres of space from the resulting corner but he failed to take advantage and sent a free header wide of the post.

Chile had their best opportunity of the first half after 29 minutes with great link-up play between Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal before the former saw his goalbound effort parried by Sergio Romero.

Argentina took the lead five minutes into the second half when Banega picked up the ball in midfield and played in Di Maria and the Paris St Germain winger took one touch before rifling the ball past Claudio Bravo.

Chile hit back and Romero had to be on his toes to deny Vidal but La Albiceleste then went down the other end and doubled their lead with a goal reminiscent of the first.

Di Maria turned provider this time and his ball played in Banega down the left channel and he drilled a left-footed effort into the roof of the net via a slight deflection.

Fuenzalida pulled one back two minutes into stoppage time heading home a free-kick but Argentina held on for victory.

** Lazio midfielder Antonio Candreva scored a first-half penalty and created a second goal as Italy beat Finland 2-0 in their final warm-up match ahead of Euro 2016.