Copa America: Lionel Messi propels Argentina into semi-finals
Lionel Messi scored a free-kick and served up two assists as Argentina beat Ecuador 3-0 on Saturday to set themselves up for a Copa America semi-final against Colombia.
Messi missed a golden chance in the first half but set up Rodrigo De Paul five minutes before half-time and then did the same for Lautaro Martinez five minutes from the end to give Argentina a deserved victory.
The Barcelona player then got his second free-kick off the tournament in stoppage time to round out a scoreline that was more convincing than the performance.
It was his 76th goal for Argentina, taking him to within one of Pele’s South American record.
“I’ve always said that individual prizes are secondary, we’re here for something else,” Messi said. “We have an objective and we’re focused on that.”
“It was a hard match, we know how difficult an opponent they can be. The important thing is we’ve taken another step forward.”
Argentina were unbeaten in 17 games coming into the game and they should have put the result beyond doubt earlier than they did.
Martinez and German Pezzella both came close in the opening 20 minutes and Hernan Galindez made one superb double save from Nicolas Gonzalez with the score at 1-0.
More surprisingly, Messi missed the best chance of the game when he was through on the keeper but saw his shot come back off the post.
However, the diminutive striker made up for it five minutes before half-time when, with the Ecuadoran goalkeeper stranded after making a tackle outside the box, he fed De Paul, who stroked the ball into the net.
Messi then set up Martinez to finish clinically five minutes from the end, before stepping up himself to curl home a free-kick in stoppage time, after Piero Hincapie hauled down Angel Di Maria and was shown a red card.
The result means Argentina will face Colombia in the second Copa America semi-final on Tuesday.
Brazil play Peru in the first semi-final.
Goalkeeper David Ospina celebrated becoming Colombia’s most capped player on Saturday by saving two penalties in a shoot out to give his country victory over Uruguay.
Ospina made a record 112th appearance in Saturday’s tie in Brasilia and was the hero after he saved spot kicks from Jose Maria Gimenez and Matias Vina.
Colombia converted their first four to progress 4-2 on penalties following a nervy encounter in Brasilia that finished 0-0 after 90 minutes.
“We knew David would be decisive and that we had to score to stay in the tournament,” said Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda.