Houston: Argentina thrashed US 4-0 in the semi-finals of the Copa America Centanario football tournament at the Reliant Stadium here on Wednesday. Centre forward Gonzalo Higuain (50th, 86th minutes) struck twice while Ezequiel Lavezzi (3rd) and Lionel Messi (32nd) also found the target for the 14-time Copa America champions. Higuain is now the highest scorer in the tournament with four goals in five matches. Argentina are gunning for their first major trophy since 1993 when they won their last Copa America title. They will meet Columbia or Chile in the final on Sunday.
The US will now play the loser of the second semi-final between Colombia and Chile in the third-place match on Saturday in Arizona. Wednesday’s match also saw Messi create history as he became the highest ever scorer for Argentina. He is now on 55 international goals, overhauling the previous record by former star striker Gabriel Batistuta. There was a worrying moment for Argentina however, as Lavezzi fractured his arm after falling over the advertising boards while attempting to head the ball. The former Paris Saint-Germain winger had to be stretchered off and has been ruled out of the final. The hosts were without three first-team regulars, with Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the semi-finals. US coach Juergen Klinsman chose to replace the trio’s with Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman while DeAndre Yedlin was returned to the starting XI. Argentina also had one changed forced upon them as the suspended Nicolas Gaitan was replaced by Lavezzi in the starting XI. Fielding their usual 4-4-2 formation, the hosts were always expected to face an uphill battle. Lionel Messi, for long accused of being unable to reproduce his club form in national colours, seemed determined to shed the stigma with a magical performance. Argentina stamped their domination right at the beginning when an unmarked Lavezzi headed in an inch-perfect lob from Messi. The Americans were left to rue some atrocious defending as none of their players picked up Lavezzi’s run from the edge of the penalty box. Messi doubled Argentina’s lead right after the half hour mark with a breathtaking left-footed freekick that curled in at the far corner. Higuain snatched his first goal early in the second half when a clever run into the box found him at the end of a cross from the left. The striker’s initial attempt was blocked by US goalkeeper Bradley Guzan, but Higuain jabbed in tghe rebound to incease Argentina’s lead. Messi created Argentina’s final goal when he picked up a loose ball in the midfield and outfoxed a couple of defenders before picking out an unmarked Higuain inside the penalty box. –IANS
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