Argentina trounced Ecuador 3-0 on Saturday, setting up a Copa America semi-final against Colombia. Lionel Messi scored a free kick and provided two assists.
Messi squandered a wonderful opportunity in the first half, but five minutes before halftime, he set up Rodrigo De Paul, and five minutes later, he did the same for Lautaro Martinez to give Argentina a merited victory.
In stoppage time, the Barcelona player scored his second free kick of the competition, completing a scoreline that was more convincing than the performance.
It was his 76th goal for Argentina, putting him one goal behind Pele for the most in South America.
Messi stated, “I’ve always believed that individual prizes are secondary; we’re here for something else.” “We have a goal in mind, and we’re working toward it.”
“We know how formidable an opponent they can be, so it was a tough encounter. The essential thing is that we’ve made progress.”
Argentina came into the game unbeaten in 17 games, and they should have put the game out of reach much sooner.
In the first 20 minutes, both Martinez and German Pezzella came close, then Hernan Galindez made a spectacular double stop from Nicolas Gonzalez with the score at 1-0.
More unexpectedly, Messi squandered the game’s greatest chance when he was through on the keeper but saw his shot blocked.
The shot bounced off the post.
However, five minutes before halftime, with the Ecuadorian goalkeeper stranded after a tackle outside the box, the small striker made amends by feeding De Paul, who stroked the ball into the net for his first international goal in 25 games.
After setting up Martinez to finish clinically five minutes from time, Messi stepped up to curl in a free kick in stoppage time after Piero Hincapie was sent out for bringing down Angel Di Maria.
Underdogs Ecuador had not won in their previous six matches, but they had chances to score against a team looking for their first Copa America title since 1993.
Enner Valencia, in particular, will be furious with himself after putting two close-range headers wide in the first 45 minutes.
Argentina will face Colombia in the second Copa America semi-final on Tuesday, after Colombia defeated Uruguay on penalties earlier in the day.
Brazil takes against Peru in the first semi-final just 24 hours earlier.