Argentina have been one of the Copa America Centenario favorites since the beginning. Their quarterfinal match agaisnt Venezuela did nothing to dispel that notion. Lionel Messi and company are now on their way to the semi-finals, where they will face the United States on Tuesday night in Houston for the right to play in the tournament final.
Argentina vs. Venezuela Recap
Higuaín, Messi provide the damage
La Albiceleste had their elite level of play on display right from the beginning. In the eighth minute, Messi played a perfectly aimed long pass for Gonzalo Higuaín in the penalty area. The Napoli forward perfectly poked a toe to the ball for the first goal of the match. The second also came from Higuaín in the 28th. He jumped on a lazy Venezuelan back pass and torched Dani Hernandez with ease to double the lead.
Despite a couple of chances for La Vinotinto at the end of the first half. the best was a saved penalty in the 44th minute. However, they had to settle for a 2-0 deficit at the break.
Messi struck again at the hour mark to continue the rout. An Argentinian counter attack ended in Nicolas Gaitan finding the superstar in space behind the Venezuela defensive line. Messi easily slipped a shot past Hernandez. Salomon Rondon provided some false hope in the 71st minute. He put Venezuela on the board with a wonderful header, but Messi and crew doused that small fire quickly. Erik Lamela’s well placed shot off a short Messi pass restored the three goal lead within seconds.
Fully fit Messi should scare USA
While this match may not have been much of a test for Argentina, they are certainly the favorites over the USA in Tuesday’s semi-final. Now that they have a fully armed and operational Lionel Messi, they have seemingly unlimited scoring options. Not only is the world’s best player running around doing what he does best, they have men like Gonzalo Higuaín getting open for easy shots. Tonight, they had Sergio Aguero coming off the bench. A player of his caliber available as fresh legs late in a close match should be enough to scare anyone.
The USMNT will have their hands full with this unlimited arsenal of goals. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks, who have been the strongest part of the USA during the tournament, will need the match of their lives if they want to keep hope alive. The weakened midfield thanks to yellow card suspensions will come into play as well. The lack of Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya will do nothing to slow down Argentina’s quick play through midfield.
As far as whether or not the USA can score goals, Bobby Wood is also suspended thanks to yellow card accumulation. His role in creating chances for this team is too strong for them to be okay without him. His skills were fully on display on the quarterfinal win over Ecuador and they will be sorely missed on Tuesday night.
The best chance they have is to win is to gut out a scoreless draw and get lucky in penalties. However, as stated above, Argentina’s wealth of attacking options will make that a monumental task.
Argentina have already proved they are a strong team without Messi in the starting XI. Now that he is there and fully fit, look out. If Argentina can replicate the performance from this win over Venezuela, and every other match they have played in Copa America, nothing will stop them from lifting the trophy.
Main Photo: Alfredo Estrella, Getty Images