Argentina advanced to the Copa America final for the second consecutive year thanks a comfortable 4-0 win over hosts the United States as captain Lionel Messi became the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer on Tuesday night in the United States (Wednesday morning).
Runners-up to Chile last year, 14-time South American champions Argentina reached the decider of the centenary tournament on a night that Messi made more history with his record-breaking 55th international goal.
Messi’s inch-perfect free-kick in the 32nd minute saw him surpass Gabriel Batistuta in stunning fashion in Houston.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had earlier teed up Ezequiel Lavezzi – who was forced from the field in the second half after tumbling over an advertising board – for the game’s opening goal in the third minute, while in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain completed the rout with a second-half brace at NRG Stadium.
Argentina – seeking to end a 23-year wait for a major trophy – will now face either defending champions Chile or Colombia in the final.
USA were without three of their first-team regulars, with Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the final-four clash. The trio’s absence meant Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and DeAndre Yedlin were called upon.
Argentina also had one changed forced upon them as the suspended Nicolas Gaitan was replaced by Lavezzi in the starting XI.
There were questions asked of Argentina coach Gerardo Martino and his decision to hand Lavezzi just his second start of the tournament, but the China-based forward repaid the faith just three minutes into the match.