Argentina beat Ecuador 3-0 in Goiania on Saturday to go to the Copa America semi-finals. Lionel Messi scored one goal and assisted on two others.
The 14-time champions will face Colombia in the last four on Tuesday, after the South Americans defeated Uruguay on penalties earlier in the day.
Messi set up goals for Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martinez before completing a magnificent individual effort with an injury-time free-kick.
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Messi has four goals and four assists in five games this tournament, more than any other player in the competition in both categories.
Messi has directly contributed to eight of Argentina’s ten goals and was involved in the set-up for the other two. Messi’s goal was his 76th for Argentina, putting him just one goal behind Pele of Brazil as the greatest scorer from the continent.
It was also his 58th direct free-kick goal for club and country (and second of the tournament), putting him one ahead of great rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
“It was a very challenging encounter; we were aware of the opponent’s difficulty. It was a tough fight until we got the goal, and then things got a little twisted. “What matters is that we went one step further,” Messi stated.
Messi was also named man-of-the-match for the fourth time in five games. “I always said: Individual accolades are secondary; we’re here for something else,” he explained. I’d want to congratulate the group for the work they’ve been doing; we’ve been away from our families for several days. We have a goal in mind and are considering it.”
After the game, Argentina’s coach Lionel Scolari hailed Messi “the greatest of all time.”
“As football fans, the best thing that can happen to us is to appreciate Messi. I wish he could play for a long time; even his opponents like facing him.”
Ecuador, who finished the game with 10 men after Pedro Hicapie’s dismissal but had been competitive throughout, received a severe score.
Argentina got out to a strong start, with Martinez almost scoring with a fantastic goal. He chipped the ball over goalkeeper Hernan Galindez and then volleyed goalwards, but Robert Arboldea blocked the shot on the line.
Martinez’s attempt was deflected wide moments later, and German Pezzella volleyed into the side netting from the resultant corner.
When Carlos Gruezo’s attempted back ball put Messi clear through with just Galindez to beat, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner watched his effort cannon back off the post, almost gifting Argentina a goal.
On the other end, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had to be on his toes to save Sebastian Mendez’s magnificent 20-yard volley.
Pervis Estupinan crossed from the left and Enner Valencia’s glancing header nearly avoided the sliding Alan Franco at the back post seven minutes before halftime.
Argentina took the lead two minutes later, with Messi as the architect. He first put Nicolas Gonzalez through on goal, but as he was tackled by Galindez, Messi responded quickly and set up De Paul for the goal.
Galindez made a stunning double save from Gonzalez before Valencia somehow headed wide from six yards out with time remaining before the interval.
Valencia remained Ecuador’s most likely route back into the contest after the break, and the lively forward’s near-post shot touched Martinez’s leg before dropping behind.
Gonzalez then nearly turned a powerful Estupinan cross into his own net. Messi came close to tying the game with a curling shot that went just past the post, while Martinez denied replacement Gonzalo Plata an equaliser with a near-post block for Aston Villa.
After Hincapie was caught in possession by Angel Di Maria, Inter Milan forward Martinez ultimately broke Ecuador’s resistance six minutes from time with a pass from Messi.
Hincapie’s terrible few minutes came to an end in injury time when he was sent off for hauling back substitute Di Maria when he was clean through, with Messi converting the free-kick.
Colombia upset Uruguay on penalties in Brasilia, and goalkeeper David Ospina was the hero.
On the day he earned his 112th Colombian cap, Ospina saved two spot-kicks in the shootout, breaking the previous national record he shared with the legendary Carlos Valderrama.
He dedicated the triumph to his civil war-torn nation, which was set to host the tournament alongside Argentina but CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, shifted it to Brazil due to fears of a coronavirus pandemic and social upheaval in Colombia.
“We just want to bring joy to our country,” Ospina, 32, said. “We want our country to be full of peace, full of people sharing and enjoying themselves because we have such a wonderful country.”
In a dreary 0-0 stalemate throughout the ordinary 90 minutes, there was little to say before the quarter-final tie went directly to penalties.
While Colombia scored all four of their penalties, Ospina made saves from Jose Gimenez and Matias Vina.
It was a major letdown for Uruguay’s top forwards Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, who both converted their penalty kicks but will almost definitely be playing in their final Copa.
Brazil defeated Chile 1-0 on Friday to advance to Monday’s semi-final against Peru, who defeated Paraguay 4-3 on penalties following a tense 3-3 draw in which both teams were reduced to ten men.