A Gonzalo Higuain brace and a masterful display from Lionel Messi – who created some more history with a goal of his own – helped Argentina into the Copa America Centenario semi-finals after a 4-1 win over Venezuela.
Messi equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s 54-goal record for Argentina, joining the Fiorentina great as their country’s equal top goalscorers when he turned home the third goal to seal his side’s triumph.
His goal followed a first-half brace from Higuain, who looked in inspired form, scoring his 27th and 28th goals for his nation, with Tottenham’s Erik Lamela also getting in on the goalscoring with his first touchof the ball after coming on just four minutes earlier.
Messi – who finished with a goal and two assists – was making his first start of the tournament, lining up in a frightening front three alongside Higuain and Nicolas Gaitan, with Angel Di Maria sitting out through injury.
Salomon Rondon gave his side some hope of a remarkable comeback when he registered a deserved goal in the 70th minute, but Lamela ended it less than a minute later when he turned home a lovely Messi pass to seal the result.
In the second quarterfinals game early Sunday morning, Eduardo Vargas scored four goals as defending champions Chile embarrassed Mexico 7-0 in a remarkable quarter-final to reach the final four of the Copa America Centenario.
Disjointed and inconsistent heading into Saturday’s blockbuster clash at Levi’s Stadium, Chile were the complete opposite as they dismantled Mexico, whose 22-game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end in scenes similar to Brazil’s 7 -1 demolition at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
All eyes were on Mexico amid their impeccable run of form but they failed to perform in a dark day for Mexican football, seemingly giving up in second half, conceding three goals in the space of eight minutes after Vargas and Edson Puch put the Chileans in control at the interval.
Alexis Sanchez – who moved joint second on the nation’s all-time goalscoring list alongside Ivan Zamorano with his 34th international strike – got in on the action four minutes into the second half before team-mate Vargas completed his hat-trick and then some, making it six goals in two matches.
Puch added a second of his own late in the game as Chile earned a semi-final showdown with Colombia.
No less than six changes were made by Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio following their 1-1 draw with Venezuela in the final group game, with Guillermo Ochoa, Miguel Layun, Nestor Araujo, Jesus Duenas, Jesus Corona and Javier Hernandez coming in for Jose Corona, Diego Reyes, Jorge Torres, Jesus Molina, Javier Aquino and Oribe Peralta.
Chile were far more settled after accounting for Panama 4-2 in their Group D finale, Puch replacing Mauricio Isla.
Playing an aggressive pressing game, the Chileans almost broke the deadlock in the 10th minute, when Arturo Vidal played a perfectly-weighed through-ball to Puch, who was thwarted by a last-ditch challenge from Araujo as the ball deflected wide for a corner.
But Puch was not to be denied his first international goal six minutes later, with the Mexico-based midfielder on hand to tuck away the rebound after Ochoa’s clearance fell to his feet.
Mexico gradually improved as the half wore on but Chile proved to be a constant threat on the counter-attack.
Vargas scored in the 37th minute but his strike was correctly ruled out for offside, though the linesman could do nothing as the in-form forward doubled Chile’s lead on the stroke of half-time.
Alexis Sanchez played an inviting ball into the six-yard box and Vargas nipped in front of his opponent before firing beyond Ochoa.
Things went from bad to worse for Mexico in the second half as Chile made it 4-0 inside 10 minutes.
After winning the ball, Vidal laid it into the path of Sanchez for a simple finish in the 49th minute and Mexico were torn to shreds as Vargas netted his second of the match following a defensive error three minutes later.
Vargas was at it again approaching the hour-mark and he then fired the ball into the roof of the net from an acute angle with 16 minutes remaining as Mexico were put well and truly to the sword, with the Hoffenheim man taking his international tally to 31 goals, fourth all-time for Chile.
And the man who started the onslaught, Puch, finished it with his brace three minutes from time.