Superstar Lionel Messi scored one and created two in his first Copa America Centenario start to lead Argentina to a 4-1 win over Venezuela, and into a semi-final against the United States.
Messi’s goal after an hour gave Argentina a 3-0 lead and was his 54th for the national team, equalling the record set by Gabriel Batistuta. The Barcelona star also became the leading scorer in this year’s Copa America with his fourth goal of the tournament.
Argentina now have two days to rest before playing USA in Houston in a mouthwatering semi-final on Tuesday night. The Americans have been off since beating Ecuador on Thursday.
With many fans in Gillette Stadium wearing Argentina and Barcelona shirts with “Messi 10” on the back, the five-time FIFA World Player of the Year started the game after playing a total of just 74 minutes in the three group stage matches. Just eight minutes in, he found Gonzalo Higuain with a brilliant long pass, and the Napoli striker made it 1-0.
Messi gathered it in from the right touchline and lofted a beautiful pass to Higuain, who split two defenders and beat Dani Hernandez with a well-struck low shot. Higuain scored again in the 28th to make it 2-0, picking up an errant backpass by Venezuela midfielder Arquimedes Figuera and sidestepping Hernandez before slotting home.
In the 42nd minute, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero tripped Josef Martinez in the box, but from the resulting penalty, Luis Manuel Seijas got it all wrong: he tried to chip it down the middle, but Romero stood tall and caught it with ease. Salomon Rondon had earlier hit the post with a header.
Messi made it 3-0 when he took a pass from Nicolas Gaitan just outside the six-yard box and poked home. It followed another defensive error.
Venezuela finally beat Romero in the 70th minute when Rondon glanced in a header from Guerra’s telling cross. But Messi fed Erik Lamela a minute later, and the Tottenham forward made it 4-1.
In the other quarter-final on Saturday night/Sunday morning Eduardo Vargas scored four goals, Edson Puch added two, and defending champions Chile thoroughly dismantled Mexico in a 7-0 trouncing.
Thousands of Mexico’s frustrated fanaticos already were long gone by the time El Tri’s worst defeat ever in an official match finally ended, right along with their team-record unbeaten streak in embarrassing fashion at 22 matches – one day shy of a year since Mexico’s last loss, to Ecuador in the Copa group stage.
“First, I’d like to offer my most heartfelt apologies to the Mexican fans,” Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. “Today was a shameful presentation, an accident that happens in soccer. Obviously, there are bigger tragedies, but speaking in terms of sports, today was a very, very poor showing on our part. I repeat my apologies to all the people and fans.”
Alexis Sanchez had a goal and two assists, and Puch scored the bookends for Chile – starting things off in the 16th minute and punctuating this dominant night with an 88th-minute goal.