Lionel Messi scored one goal and provided two assists as Argentina kept alive their bid to end their 28-year Copa America title wait with a 3-0 quarter-final win over 10-man Ecuador in Goiania on Saturday.
Messi hit the post early before showing composure to find Rodrigo De Paul for his maiden international goal in the 40th minute.
Late on, Messi swooped on a heavy touch from Piero Hincapie to set up Lautaro Martinez – for his second goal in two games – before adding one of his own with a superb free-kick.
Argentina extends their unbeaten run to 18 games under head coach Lionel Scaloni. La Tri exit without a win, despite reaching the knockout stage.
Argentina started strong, with Martinez’s angled shot saved, while German Pezzella fired into the side-netting from a Messi corner.
Ecuador had a major let-off in the 23rd minute following Carlos Gruezo’s error which allowed Messi in one-on-one, only to shoot into the upright.
Jhegson Mendez tested Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez with a thunderous volley and Enner Valencia glanced a header off target as Ecuador offered some threat in an open game.
But Argentina took the lead in the 40th minute with Messi calmly finding De Paul who picked his spot after Ecuador keeper Hernan Galindez raced off his line to clear a through-ball.
Valencia flicked a header wide on half-time, while the Fenerbahce forward also hit the post early in the second half from a tight angle.
Argentina sat back in the second half, with Gonzalo Plata testing Emiliano Martinez in the 80th minute before Messi found Lautaro Martinez for an easy finish after Hincapie’s error.
Hincapie was sent off in stoppage-time for a last-man foul following a VAR check, with Messi stepping up to curl home the free-kick from the edge of the box brilliantly.
What does it mean?
Argentina are into the last four as they target a drought-breaking continental crown. La Albiceleste have not lifted the Copa since Gabriel Batistuta inspired them to victory in 1993, claiming back-to-back titles.
Messi’s Argentina have come close in recent times, finishing third in 2019 and runners-up in 2004 (prior to Messi’s debut), 2007, 2015 and 2016. They have a great shot at ending that wait.
De Paul’s 40th-minute strike meant La Albiceleste have scored in the first half in 11 consecutive matches. Prior to Saturday’s win, 12 of Argentina’s past 13 goals had been scored in the opening 45 minutes of matches.
Ecuador’s own drought
The 1993 tournament is also relevant for Ecuador, who finished fourth at that Copa; their best result in recent times.
La Tri have not bettered that performance since, with this being the third campaign they have fallen at the quarter-final stage since. Remarkably Ecuador have only won three Copa games since bowing out in the 2017 quarters.
Argentina progresses to face Colombia in the semi-finals in Brasilia on Tuesday, while Ecuador pack their bags, with their next competitive action being 2022 World Cup qualifying in September.
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