Messi, Argentina thrash Venezuela to book date with USMNT

Messi, Argentina thrash Venezuela to book date with USMNT

Copa America 2016

Messi, Argentina thrash Venezuela to book date with USMNT

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Photo by Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

Argentina’s attacking arsenal was on full display on Saturday night, as Lionel Messi and co. surged past Venezuela to book a Copa America semifinal date with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Messi provided a goal and an assist while Gonzalo Higuain added two finishes of his own in a 4-1 thrashing of Venezuela in Saturday night’s Copa America quarterfinal matchup.

Just eight minutes in, Argentina punished Venezuela through the combination of Messi and Higuain. After receiving the ball about 40 yards from goal, Messi curled a pass up and over the Venezuelan defense and onto the foot of Higuain. The Napoli forward still had to guide it home, and he did just that to give Argentina an early advantage.

Higuain doubled his tally 20 minutes later with the Venezuelan backline playing the role of provider. Taking advantage of an errant backpass from Arquimedes Figuera, Higuain darted toward the box and rounded goalkeeper Dani Hernandez. With an open net in front of him, Higuain merely tapped home to double Argentina’s lead.

Messi aded Argentina’s third on another Venezuela giveaway in the 60th minute. After picking off a pass in their attacking half, Nicholas Gaitan and Lionel Messi played passes back and forth before the former set up the latter for a tap-in to make it 3-0. The goal moved Messi into a tie atop Argentina’s all-time goalscoring chart, equaling Gabriel Batistuta with 54 international goals.

With the game well out of hand, Salomon Rondon headed Venezuela a consolation goal in the 70th minute before substitute Erik Lamela replied with a goal of his own less than 30 seconds later.

Despite the disadvantage on the scoreboard and in possession, Venezuela refused to pack it in. Sergio Romero was forced into a big save shortly after Higuain’s goal, while Rondon struck the post in the 40th minute.  Just one minute later, Romero was forced into another sprawling save following a deflection.

Their persistence was nearly rewarded with a 43rd minute penalty kick as Romero took out Josef Martinez. However, the ensuing panenka from Luis Seijas was read by Romero, who stood rooted to merely catch the chipped shot. It was as close as Venezuela would get to making it a game, as Argentina cruised through the second half en route to a fourth straight victory to open the Copa America.

With the win, Messi and Argentina take on the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday in the Copa America semifinals.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Starting for the first time at the Copa America, Lionel Messi put forth a performance one would expect of a player arguably considered the world’s best. His pinpoint ball found Higuain for the first goal of the day, while his nutmeg finish on the team’s third furthered Argentina’s domination.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

Gonzalo Higuain’s first goal proved a worthy opener, but his second finish set a true tone of how Saturday’s match would play out. Handed a goal by the Venezuelan defense, Higuain was given a mere tap-in after rounding the goalkeeper in a sequence that served as a proper representation of Saturday’s action.

MATCH TO FORGET

Given a chance to get his side within a goal from the penalty spot, Luis Seijas made the inexcusable decision to attempt a panenka. Sergio Romero saved easily, leaving Seijas as the goat for blowing his team’s chance to battle back into the match.

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