In a near full house capacity at the 25,000 Red Bull Arena, Julian Alvarez putting Argentina ahead on 13 minutes when Lautaro Martinez spun Leon Baily and found the Manchester City attacker to beat Andre Blake.
With Juventus midfielder Angel Di Maria plus Spurs player Giovani Lo Celso included, along with experienced centre halves Cristian Romero and Nicolas Otamendi, it was a tough ask for the Reggae Boyz, under new coach Heimir Hallgrímsson.
Forwards Michail Antonio and Spartak Moscow‘s Shamar Nicholson were willing runners, but the game changed when former Barcelona star Messi entered the fray with half an hour to go.
The 35-year-old, who was twice approached by supporters running on to the field, fired into the net on 86 minutes after clever interplay with Lo Celso and was on target once more with a low free kick in the closing stages.
It meant Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 35 matches over three years, with Bell completing the 90 minutes, as he will now look to get back to England in time for Luton’s trip to Hull City on Friday evening.