Houston, June 22 (IANS) Argentina thrashed the US 4-0 in the semi-finals of the Copa America Centanario football tournament at the Reliant Stadium here on Wednesday.
Centre forward Gonzalo Higuain (50th, 86th minutes) struck twice while Ezequiel Lavezzi (3rd) and Lionel Messi (32nd) also found the target for the 14-time Copa America champions. Higuain has logged four goals in five matches in this tournament so far. The Napoli striker has now scored 30 goals in 62 games for Argentina.
Argentina are gunning for their first major trophy since 1993 when they won their last Copa America title. This is the fifth time that they have reached the final of the Copa America. They will meet Columbia or Chile in the final on Sunday.
It will be their third major final in three years after reaching the finals of the 2015 Copa America and 2014 World Cup. The US will now play the loser of the second semi-final between Colombia and Chile in the third-place match on Saturday in Arizona.
Wednesday’s match also saw Messi create history as he became the highest ever scorer for Argentina. He is now on 55 international goals, overhauling the previous record by former star striker Gabriel Batistuta.
The five-time world player of the year now has five goals in this tournament as he aims to lead Argentina to their first major title in 23 years.
“I’m happy to have the record, and I’m happy to play with the team-mates that have made it possible. I owe it to them,” Messi was quoted as saying by Sky Sports after the win.
“We’ve been playing well from day one and we deserve to be in the final,” the Barcelona star added.
There was a worrying moment for Argentina however, as Lavezzi fractured his arm after falling over the advertising boards while attempting to head the ball.
The former Paris Saint-Germain winger had to be stretchered off and has been ruled out of the final.
The hosts were without three first-team regulars, with Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the semi-finals. US coach Juergen Klinsman chose to replace the trio with Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman while DeAndre Yedlin was returned to the starting XI.
Argentina also had one change forced upon them as the suspended Nicolas Gaitan was replaced by Lavezzi in the starting XI.
Fielding their usual 4-4-2 formation, the hosts were always expected to face an uphill battle. Lionel Messi, for long accused of being unable to reproduce his club form in national colours, seemed determined to shed the stigma with a magical performance.
Argentina stamped their domination right at the beginning when an unmarked Lavezzi headed in an inch-perfect lob from Messi. The Americans were left to rue some atrocious defending as none of their players picked up Lavezzi’s run from the edge of the penalty box.
Messi doubled Argentina’s lead right after the half hour mark with a breathtaking left-footed free kick that curled in at the far corner.
Higuain snatched his first goal early in the second half when a clever run into the box found him at the end of a cross from the left. The striker’s initial attempt was blocked by US goalkeeper Bradley Guzan, but Higuain jabbed in the rebound to increase Argentina’s lead.
Messi created Argentina’s fourth goal four minutes from time when he picked up a loose ball in the midfield and outfoxed a couple of defenders before picking out an unmarked Higuain inside the penalty box.
“I’m very happy for him (Messi),” Argentina head coach Gerardo Martino said.
“I’m happy that he’s done it here at the Copa America. It is great that the best player in the world is the leading scorer of the Argentina national team,” Martino added.