Venezuela 0-2 Argentina
If the truth be known, Argentina have yet to convince in this tournament and have produced very few Copa America highlights.
Yet SBOBET fans, here are La Albaceleste in the semi-finals of the competition and potentially 180 minutes away from being crowned kings of South America for the first time since their tournament triumph of 1993.
Yes, they may have lost in four of the past five finals, most recently in 2016, and are not favourites with the Copa America betting odds.
But they have played much better in recent Copa clashes and lost, so what’s to say the momentum is not with this time?
Highlights of the game
Certainly, their talisman Lionel Messi said before kick-off that this tie was realistically the start of the Copa America for Argentina, unconvincing in the group stage.
It seems unthinkable that for all the club and individual honours that Messi has won, he could end his career without winning a senior trophy with Argentina (not that it would dilute his brilliance and pantheon as one of the all-time greats).
He has three runners-up medals from the Copa America and another from the 2014 World Cup, but time is running out for him to claim international glory and have a chance of truly joining national hero Diego Maradona in the hearts of the Argentine people.
From the outset here, he seemed determined to put that right against a spirited Venezuela who hadn’t lost to Argentina in four years and dominated them in a friendly back in March, as well as holding them to two draws during 2018 World Cup qualifying.
It took just 12 minutes for the deadlock to be broken as Messi whipped a corner across to Man City star Sergio Aguero and his drilled ball back into the danger zone was flicked home by Lautaro Martinez.
It was the start coach Lionel Scaloni, who has yet to sign a long-term contract with the Argentinian FA, must have dreamed of.
Despite the early setback, Rafael Dudamel’s Venzuela certainly weren’t going to make life easy for their opponents.
They have been built on strong defensive principles, underlined by the performances of Al Ahli centre back Jhon Chancellor, and with clean sheets to date against Peru and Brazil.
However, they rarely threatened at the other end, only creating their first real opportunity just before the break, shortly after which an inch perfect sliding challenge from Roberto Rosales denied Martinez a second.
The Inter Milan striker went even closer at the start of the second period, hitting the post within a minute of the restart.
With a series of bookings and stoppages for VAR reviews – surely this is not what the system is designed for? – this clash wasn’t always easy on the eye but Argentina were always in control and sealed their place in the last four with 17 minutes remaining.
A minute after Ronald Hernandez had been smartly denied an equaliser by Franco Armani, a mistake by his otherwise impressive counterpart Wuilker Farinez ensured the tie was over.
He spilt Aguero’s shot and there was substitute Giovani Lo Celso – reportedly wanted by Spurs – to tap home the second and ease any nerves among the Argentinian support.
It’s Brazil in Brazil next for them – it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
Messi has had a hand in 11 Argentina goals against Venezuela in all competitions (four goals and seven assists); the most he has been involved in against any national team (followed by 10 v Paraguay).
Argentina have beaten Venezuela on all six occasions they have faced them at the Copa America, scoring 30 goals and conceding only three.
Of the teams to make it to the quarter-finals, Venezuela allowed the most opposition shots (46) and attempt the fewest (32) during the group stage.
When he came on as substitute, Angel Di María earned his 100th cap for Argentina, becoming only the sixth player to reach that landmark after Javier Mascherano (147), Javier Zanetti (142), Messi (134), Roberto Ayala (115) and Diego Simeone (105).
There were five yellow cards in the first half of this match – more than in any other first half of the last two Copa America tournaments.
It’s the ultimate clash in South America next, some would say the ultimate clash in international football.
Hosts Brazil meet Argentina in the Estadio Governador Magalhaes Pinto on Wednesday (July 3) for a place in the final of the 2019 Copa America.
Historically, it’s a rivalry which goes beyond the football pitch and is laden with political and cultural history. All eyes will be on that one.
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