FOXBORO, Mass. — Lionel Messi and Argentina mean business at Copa America 2016, and soccer fans near and far are thankful.
Argentina thrashed Venezuela 4-1 in a Copa America 2016 quarterfinal game on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Gonzalo Higuain scored two goals in the first half, and Messi and Erik Lamela struck in the second period. Venezuela’s hopes of mustering a shocking comeback following Salomon Rondon’s 70th minute goal ended instantly when Lamela notched his goal just one minute later.
The result and Argentina’s performance justified the lofty expectations most of the 59,183 in attendance had for the most high-profile team Gillette Stadium has hosted in recent memory. Argentina was the pre-tournament favorite to win Copa America 2016, earned more points than any other team during the three-game group stage with nine and scored the most goals with 10.
Only Ecuador in 1993 and Chile in 2015 reached the 10-goal mark in previous editions of Copa America, but neither strutted their stuff in our backyard, as top-ranked Argentina just did.
Here are some things we learned in Argentina’s win over Argentina.
Messi’s magic up close
Messi jerseys were prevalent throughout the crowd, and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner didn’t disappoint their bearers. He set a new Copa America record for assists with a sublime delivery on Higuain’s eighth-minute opener. The assist was Messi’s first of Copa America 2016 but his eighth all time in South America’s continental championship tournament.
Messi later gave Argentina a 3-0 by scoring in the 60th minute. The goal was his fourth of Copa America 2016, a tournament high. It also was Messi’s 54th career goal for Argentina; a historic number, as he moved level with Gabriel Batistuta as his country’s all-time leading scorer.
Venezuela employed rough tactics on Messi. It didn’t work, as Messi claimed man-of-the-match honors.
Copa America dominance
Argentina’s reputation preceded it, but the No. 1 team in FIFA’s latest rankings were more impressive than we expected. Argentina’s attacking movements were devastating against a Venezuela team which conceded just one goal in three group-stage games — the joint-stingiest defense along with, you guessed it, Argentina.
Argentina now is blowing away the past and present Copa America field in soccer’s most important category.
However, Argentina wasn’t perfect. Rondon’s headed goal in the 69th minute was cosmetic in the score-line, but Venezuela created a number of chances against Argentina’s vulnerable defense. Venezuela had three shots on goal in the first half, and might have converted one had Argentina goalkeeer Sergio Romero not made a stunning save in the 40th minute on Rolf Feltscher’s effort.
Three minutes laster, Luis Manuel Seijas blew Venezuela’s chance to go into halftime down 2-1 with one of the all-time worst “Panenka” penalty-kick fails.
Venezuela was one of the tournament’s best teams during the group stage. Unfortunately, its level dropped in the face of its strongest opponent of Copa America 2016.
Argentina for the win?
The United States will face Argentina in the semifinals on Tuesday in Houston. Good luck, Team USA. You’ll need it against this Argentina team.
Should Argentina defeat the United States, as expected, it will face either Chile or Mexico in the final on June 26 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
We’re split on whether Argentina or Chile will win the tournament, per our revised Copa America 2016 predictions.
This scribe says Argentina won’t end its 23-year wait for title at a major, senior-level international tournament. Angel di Maria’s injury-enforced absence and Argentina’s creaky defense will conspire to deliver Copa America 2016 glory to Chile … or Mexico.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jun 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi (10) congratulates forward Gonzalo Higuain (9) after he scored his second goal of the game against the Venezuela during the first half of quarter-final play in the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports