Lionel Messi produced a scintillating individual performance as Argentina destroyed Paraguay 6-1 to reach the final of the Copa America on Tuesday.
The Barcelona superstar tormented Paraguay mercilessly as the favourites produced their best display of the tournament and advanced to a showdown with Chile in Saturday’s final.
Although Messi failed to end his goal-drought of more than 900 minutes without an international goal from open play, he turned creator as Argentina tore Paraguay apart.
A brace from Angel Di Maria and goals from Marcos Rojo, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain completed an emphatic rout for the South American giants.
A satisfied Messi was delighted that Argentina’s potent collection of attacking talent finally appears to have clicked with Saturday’s final against Chile looming.
“We’ve been playing well — we knew once we scored one goal, many more would come, and that’s what happened,” said Messi as he collected his man-of-the-match award. “We got an early goal and then found more space, and then we got the second. We continued to play the same way and more goals came.”
Argentina, who finished runners-up in last year’s World Cup, are determined to clinch a first major title in 22 years at the Copa America.
Manchester United defender Rojo and Paris Saint-Germain’s Pastore had given Argentina a 2-0 lead midway through the first half before Paraguay pulled one back through Lucas Barrios.
But any Paraguayan hopes of repeating their heroics in the group phase — when they came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 — were snuffed out by two goals in six minutes from Di Maria early in the second half.
The carnage was completed with a headed goal from Manchester City striker Aguero in the 80th minute before substitute Higuain made it 6-1 just after coming on.
Martino demands more from Argentina
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino believes his side can improve the 6-1 demolition of Paraguay, adding that aspects of the goalless draw against Colombia in the previous round had pleased him more.
Martino’s main gripe was that Argentina had failed to press the Paraguayans hard enough to win back possession when they lost the ball. “I’m happy about the 6-1 scoreline and playing in the final but if there’s something that needs correcting I’ll correct it, whether we draw 0-0, lose or win,” he said.
Argentina have played well throughout the tournament but until Tuesday had scored only four goals in as many matches as they struggled to kill off their opponents.
However, their victory was the biggest in a Copa America semi-final since 1997, when Brazil hammered Peru 7-0, and was Argentina’s biggest win over Paraguay in the tournament since 1947, when they beat them 6-0 in Ecuador.
They have played Paraguay 24 times in the 99-year history of the tournament and have never lost.
Likewise, the two finalists have played each other 24 times in the Copa America and Argentina have yet to lose.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2015.
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