Messi inspires rout of US in Copa semis
Lionel Messi pretty much ended the United States' Copa America hopes in less than three minutes.
Argentina's diminutive dribbling and scoring machine showed the skills, speed and brilliance that made him a five-time world player of the year, exposing the huge gap between the US and soccer's elite.
Messi set up Ezequiel Lavezzi's opening goal 175 seconds in, scored on a free-kick to break Argentina's career scoring record and assisted on the second of Gonzalo Higuain's two goals in a 4-0 rout on Tuesday night that put La Albiceleste into the Copa America final.
Messi flicked the ball over the defence to an open Lavezzi for the opener, then doubled the lead in the 32nd minute with his 55th international goal, his fifth of the tournament. Higuain added goals in the 50th and 86th minutes, the latter off Messi's pass.
Argentina had 67 per cent possession and outshot the US 10-0 nine of them on goal.
"Once we were one-nil down, we had far too much respect," US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "After that early goal, I think just that our players could feel that they are just probably in every position on the field just better than we are."
FIRST MAJOR TITLE
Argentina seek their first major title since the 1993 Copa and their first since Messi's debut in 2005 on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
"We deserve it, for all the good work we've been doing all these years," Messi said.
Argentina will be missing Lavezzi, who broke his left elbow when he fell backward over an advertising sign board in the 63rd minute while trying to chest a pass.
Top-ranked Argentina and Messi, who turns 29 Friday and is at the top of his game, stunned the No. 31 US and the sellout crowd of 70,858 at NRG Stadium.
"It's some of his angles and his spurts and just going from a walk to an absolute sprint," US midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "You try to do what you can to stop him, but once he gets going, it's hard."
Messi will try to fill a major gap in his resume. He has helped Barcelona win eight titles in Spain's La Liga and four in the Champions League, but his Argentina trophies have been limited to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship for players under 20 and the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, mostly for players under 23.
La Albiceleste lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil and to hosts Chile on penalty kicks in last year's Copa America final.
"I think that since losing the final in Brazil, these players set out to have a new possibility," Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said.
Messi bent a beautiful curving drive that went just over goalkeeper Brad Guzan's outstretched left palm and into the upper corner. It moved him one ahead of Gabriel Batistuta's career total, according to the Argentine Football Association; FIFA records Batistuta's total as 56, including two goals in an exhibition against Slovakia in June 1995.
"I'm really happy to have overcome the Bati," Messi said.