FOXBOROUGH, US: Lionel Messi scored a record-equaling 54th international goal as Argentina out-classed Venezuela 4-1 to book their place in the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario here on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
The Barcelona superstar scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 60th minute at the Gillette Stadium to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s long-time Argentina international goalscoring record.
Messi also created a goal for Gonzalo Higuain, who scored twice, and second half substitute Erik Lamela as Argentina set up a semifinal against the United States in Houston on Tuesday.
Afterwards Messi played down his goalscoring milestone.
“I’m happy for what it means and it’s nice to be next to ‘Batigol’ (Batistuta), but for me tonight the most important thing is the result,” Messi said.
Messi is determined to lead Argentina to their first trophy in 23 years after a series of agonizing near misses, which include defeats in the finals of last year’s Copa America and the 2014 World Cup final.
“I think people sometimes overlook that we got to two finals, and only focus on the fact that we lost,” Messi said.
“For us to be back in another semi-final of a big tournament like this one is a great achievement for these players.”
Few would bet against Messi achieving his goal after an inspirational display that left Venezuela chasing shadows in the early part of Saturday’s quarter-final.
Messi’s genius created the opening goal after eight minutes, with the playmaker lofting a sublime curling pass to pick out Higuain’s run into the area.
Napoli forward Higuain still had plenty to do but skillfully directed a first time strike past Venezuela goalkeeper Dani Hernandez for a wonderful goal.
Argentina remained firmly in control but were jolted in the 27th minute when Nicolas Gaitan picked up a needless yellow card for a kick on Alexander Gonzalez that will see him suspended for the semi-final.
Argentina’s dominance clearly had Venezuela rattled, and the Vinotinto’s defensive unease led to the next goal.
A slack backpass from Arquimedes Figuera went straight to Higuain in space, and the striker coolly rounded Hernandez to stroke home his second of the night to make it 2-0 after 29 minutes.
But just when it looked as if the floodgates would open, Venezuela rallied impressively and had Argentina rocking with a series of chances.
Vargas scores four as Chile blanks Mexico 7-0
Eduardo Vargas scored four goals as holders Chile sent Mexico spinning to a historic 7-0 defeat to reach the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario.
Hoffenheim forward Vargas completed a hat trick in 13 devastating minutes either side of half time to send Chile into a semi-final against Colombia in Chicago on Wednesday.
Vargas later dedicated his performance to his mother, who was earlier this week diagnosed with a heart problem in his homeland.
“I’m very happy with the performance, I dedicate it to my mum and my family,” Vargas said.
“We started this tournament badly but we’re getting stronger and stronger with every match,” he added.
The drubbing was Mexico’s worst ever defeat in the finals of a major tournament. Their previous biggest loss was a 6-0 rout by West Germany at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
The rout was also only one goal away from equaling Mexico’s heaviest ever defeat in any international, an 8-0 thrashing by England in London in 1961.