Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano will be appearing at the final of the Copa America Centenario at the MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford (Sunday June 26 at 8.00pm EDT and 2.00am CET) after blitzing host nation the United States 4-0 in Houston on Tuesday night. Later on today, the side coached by former Barça boss Tata Martino will find out whether that will be against Colombia or Claudio Bravo’s Chile, who meet in Chicago in the other semi-final.
The over 70,000 spectators that packed the NRG Stadium were there to cheer their own side towards what would have been a surprise victory, but the chance to see the world’s greatest footballer in the opposition’s ranks was the other great attraction.
The former was never to be, but they didn’t have to wait long to see the latter at his best. The game was just three minutes old when Messi laid on the assist for Lavezzi to head home the opener.
Despite missing three key players in Wood, Bedoya and Jones, the US managed to contain Argentina for the next half-hour, but a piece of true Messi magic eventually doubled the Albiceleste lead. A perfectly executed free-kick looped over the wall and past Gulan – and that was Leo’s 55th goal for his country, beating Gabriel Batistuta to set a new all-time record.
It’s quite some list he now tops. Since scoring his first international goal in a friendly against Croatia ten years ago, Messi’s is ranked above other such legendary names as Hernán Crespo, Daniel Passarella and Diego Maradona.
There was no coming back from there for Argentina. Higuain, who already scored twice against Venezuela, secured another brace in the second half to complete a comfortable 4-0. In fact, Messi could probably have scored the fourth goal himself, but as ever he put the team before personal stats and on realising that his attacking partner was better positioned, he laid the ball into his path.
It was a great way to round off a near-perfect evening for Argentina, the only sour note being a nasty injury suffered by Lavezzi after clashing with an advertising hoarding.
Neither Messi nor Mascherano have ever managed to add to their wealth of titles at club level with won a major senior trophy with Argentina. Defeat to Chile in last year’s Copa American final was a bitter pill to swallow. Twelve months later and they have earned a second chance – possibly against the same side…