In a match-up between the favourites and the contenders in the third quarter-final, Argentina hit four past Venezuela to enter the semi-final of the Copa America Centenario. Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Erik Lamela scored for the winners, while Salomon Rondon pulled one back for Venezuela.
Argentina: Romero, Mercado, Otamendi, Funes Mori, Rojo, Fernandez, Mascherano, Banega, Messi, Higuain, Gaitan
Venezuela: Hernandez, Gonzalez, Angel, Vizcarrondo, Feltscher, Guerra, Rincon, Figuera, Seijas, Rondon, Martinez.
No.1 ranked Argentina came into the match in good form, getting past their opponents easily, even with minimal involvement of their talismanic player Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star was fit for the last-eight clash, but Angel di Maria was injured for the last year's finalists. Venezuela had been the surprise package of the tournament, and were looking to stun the heavyweights to book a date with USA in the semi-final. History was against them though, as they had lost 19 out of the 20 clashes between the two, but the Veneuelans were desperate to set things right.
Argentina started off well, capitalizing on some sloppy defending and tackling from the Venezuelans. Messi did not look like he was short on match practice at all, as he curled one just wide of the goal in the third minute. Seijas picked up the first booking of the match in the 4th minute, meaning he had to play with caution for 86 more minutes. The deadlock was broken in the 8th minute with Higuain scoring his first of the tournament. The provider was Messi as he stunningly bent a pass from 40 yards from goal into the Napoli striker’s path for him to slot it past Hernandez. Another mistake from the Venezuelan keeper handed Messi a chance, but he failed to volley the ball into an empty net. The Barcelona man was repeatedly tacked roughly, with the referee having to step in multiple times.
A mix-up in the Venezuelan back line in the 28th minute presented Higuain a golden chance to roll the ball into the net, and he did it comfortably. Argentina were 2-0 up already and looked well on their way to meet USA at Houston.
Fight back from Venezuela
Venezuela gradually found their rhythm and were increasingly finding themselves in good positions in front of the goal. Rondon looked the most dangerous, firing a shot towards goal in the 35th minute, but Romero did not let it past him. A corner four minutes later saw him hit the post with a header. Romero seemed to have undone all the good work in the 43rd minute, handing Venezuela a penalty after tackling Martinez, but Seijas chipped it straight into the Argentine’s hands. They came back stronger after half-time, winning set pieces and looking increasingly threatening. A free-kick in the 49th minute and corner in the 50th minute looked dangerous, but they failed to find the back of the net.
Argentina close out the match
The sloppiness of the Venezuelan defence was on view again, as Vizcarrondo gave away the ball near his goal. Gaitan, then sent through a simple pass to Messi, and the Argentinian wizard put the ball into the goal through Hernandez’s legs to give Argentina a 3-0 lead in the 60th minute. Rondon finally got a well-deserved goal in the 70th minute, but Argentina replied within a minute, with substitute Erik Lamela scoring from another error by Dani Hernandez. With Argentina leading 4-1, Venezuela looked lost, and the World No1 side kept the ball comfortably to see out the match and to set up a last-four clash with hosts United States.
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