Argentina captain Lionel Messi demonstrated why for many he is the best player on the planet with a dazzling display, as the Albiceleste destroyed Paraguay 6-1 to take its place in the Copa America final in style yesterday evening. Messi may not have found the score-sheet, but the No. 10 tore Paraguay to pieces and inspired his team-mates as they set up a clash with hosts Chile for the tournament decider.
The two teams took time to settle in Concepción, with plenty of mistakes marking a scrappy start to the game. Argentina in particular suffered from incessant pressure across the pitch, losing possession with some uncharacteristically slack passing. Gerardo Martino’s men eventually managed to overcome early nerves and began to control the game.
Javier Pastore enjoyed the first decent chance of the evening, taking the ball inside the area following a neat interchange between Lucas Biglia, Lionel Messi and Pablo Zabaleta. The Manchester City man’s cross found Pastore unmarked, but the midfielder fired a weak volley straight at Justo Villar in the Paraguay net. Those Argentines inside the stadium, however, would not have to wait long.
After 15 minutes Messi’s teasing deep free-kick managed to evade the Guaraní back-line, finding Marcos Rojo unmarked in the area. The left-back took the ball on a neat turn and fired low to beat Villar and open the scoring, to the delight of his team-mates. Pastore then had a golden chance to score the second, eventually seeing his shot saved once more by the goalkeeper after a lovely pass from Messi.
There would be time for the Paris Saint-Germain star to make amends. Once more it was Messi and Pastore who stretched the opposition in midfield, and the latter accelerated past the Paraguay defence and drilled the ball home to put Argentina two ahead. The Albiceleste were now completely dominant, with the captain and No. 10 appearing all over the pitch to trouble Ramón Díaz’s charges.
Just when the side looked set to take a healthy lead to the break, a moment of defensive madness allowed Paraguay to pounce. A poor clearance led to the ball falling kindly for Lucas Barrios, and the Argentina native repeated his goalscoring antics of the first match with a stunning strike that left Sergio Romero helpless. Paraguay were suddenly galvanized, and the half-time whistle came with Martino’s men holding on to avoid the equalizer.
But the Argentines could count on an Angel coming to save them. Just two minutes after the restart Ángel Di María latched on to Pastore’s perfect pass and finished to net the third, restoring some breathing space for the country and calming frayed nerves. The game was then put out of reach with Di María’s second, the Manchester United winger on hand to convert a rebound in a goal that owed a great deal to more Messi magic.
The Barcelona star was on another planet in the second half, and all that his performance lacked was a goal. Fate almost obliged with 20 minutes left when a one-two with Pastore left Leo free, but Villar denied the captain with a strong save that kept the score-line at 4-1. Messi will not be too troubled by the blank, however, if his team-mates keep providing the goods. Sergio Agüero made it five for the Albiceleste 10 minutes from time with a header and substitute Gonzalo Higuaín added the sixth in a late flourish as Argentina marched triumphantly into the Copa America final.
The decisive fixture will take place on Saturday in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional, while Paraguay face Peru in Concepción this Friday.
Source: Buenos Aires Herald