FOXBOROUGH — A pair of goals by Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain along with second half goals by Lionel Messi and Erik Lamela, helped Argentina secure a 4-1 win over Venezuela in the Copa America Centenario semifinals.
Salomon Rondon scored the lone goal from a feisty Venezuelan team that was able to make the Argentine back-line sweat, however it was too little too late.
Here are the main takeaways of the game:
Argentina strikes early
The biggest news before kickoff was that Messi was going to start his first game of the tournament after missing out the first game against Chile and coming off the bench against Panama and Bolivia.
In the 8th minute of the game Messi got right into business and delivered an impeccable 40-yard cross into the heart of the box for Higuain to put in the back of the net early in the game.
Argentina with the lead kept possession of the ball to manage their lead, however the second goal came after a big mistake from Arquimedes Figuera in the 28th minute, when he tried to play the ball back to his goalkeeper but the pass fell short and right into the path of Higuian who swiftly went around the goalie Danny Hernandez to score with an empty net and appeared to secure Argentina’s ticket to the semifinals.
Not so fast
Despite finding themselves down 2-0 before the half hour mark Venezuela didn’t give up, in the 35th minute Salomon Rondon stole the ball from Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano but Sergio Romero saved his shot to preserve the two goal lead.
Just four minutes later, Rondon had another chance from a corner but his header hit the post. Two minutes later Rof Feltscher took a shot from the edge of the box which was deflected and forced a miraculous save by Romero.
On the ensuing corner kick Romero committed a foul over Yosef Martinez giving Venezuela a great opportunity to cut the lead in half but Luis Seijas tried to lob his penalty down the middle which was easily saved by Romero.
Cruising into the win
After a rough patch at the end of the second half Argentina was able to keep Venezuela at bay. In the 60th minute Argentina extended the lead to 3-0 and in the process tied Gabriel Batistuta’s goal-scoring record with 54 goals with the Argentina national team.
Venezuela was able to get a goal back in the 70th minute when Alejandro Guerra’s cross found Rondon who placed his header into the far post, but the celebration was short lived as just one minute later Erik Lamela found the back of the net to seal the 4-1 victory.
Argentina will now play the host the U.S. on June 21 in Houston in the first semifinal. Nicolas Gaitan will not be available as he accumulated a second yellow. Angel Di Maria will be questionable due to injury.