Inspired Messi sends Argentina into Copa America semifinals

Four-time Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi scored a goal and provided two assists as Argentina progressed to the Copa America semifinals with an emphatic 3-0 win over Ecuador here on Saturday.

The new free agent set up Rodrigo de Paul and Lautaro Martinez before scoring with a sublime free-kick in stoppage time.

The result at Estadio Olimpico in Goiania means Argentina will face Colombia in Brasilia on Tuesday, with the winner earning a place in the final at the Maracana stadium on July 10.

Defending champions and tournament hosts Brazil will meet Peru in the other semifinal at Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Stadium on Monday.

Ecuador started the game in a positive fashion and almost took the lead via Enner Valencia’s glancing header, which flew just wide of the target following Pervis Estupinan’s probing cross.

Argentina made them pay moments later when Messi set up De Paul, who took a touch before rifling home his first international goal.

Ecuador began the second half as they did in the first, controlling possession for long periods but struggling to find a spark in the final third.

The Albiceleste were far more clinical and they doubled their lead through Martinez, who Messi supplied after Angel Di Maria dispossessed Piero Hincapie.

Messi capped off a superb individual display by curling in a 93rd-minute free-kick, awarded after Hincapie pulled down di Maria on the edge of the box.

Earlier, David Ospina saved two penalty attempts as Colombia advanced to the last four with a 4-2 shootout win over Uruguay in Brasilia.

The Napoli goalkeeper dived low to his right to keep out Jose Gimenez’s spot-kick and then leaped to his left to palm away Matias Vina’s attempt at the Mane Garrincha stadium.

The match went to a shootout after a goalless 90 minutes in which neither team posed a clear attacking threat.

“We want to achieve important things and this was a step towards achieving that,” Ospina said after the match. “They [Uruguay] are tough opponents and we had to work hard to beat them. We know nobody is going to gift us anything. Now we’re going to rest and start preparing for our next match,” the Napoli goalkeeper added.

Both sides mustered just three shots on target while Colombia had a slight edge in midfield, controlling 51% of possession and completing 425 passes compared to Uruguay’s 409.

Los Cafeteros had the best of the early chances, with William Tesillo heading just over the bar and Duvan Zapata forcing a smart save from goalkeeper Fernando Muslera just before halftime.

Uruguay were more assertive early in the second half and almost went ahead just before the hour when Edinson Cavani found Giorgian De Arrascaeta, who Ospina denied after a low drive into the bottom corner.

Colombia rallied late and created a series of half-chances, including headers from Yerry Mina and Zapata that Ospina was again able to keep out.

With no extra-time played in South America’s major competitions, the match went straight to penalties after 90 minutes, paving the way for Ospina and his teammates to atone for their shootout defeat to Chile in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Copa America. Enditem

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