Lionel Messi and Argentina will continue their quest to win a first major senior international trophy in 23 years, after beating Venezuela 4-1 in the Copa America quarterfinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Messi started for the first time all tournament, and he wasted little time in making an impact against Argentina's South American foe.
The reigning FIFA World Player of the Year fed Gonzalo Higuain over the top with an inch-perfect pass from the right. Higuain connected while sliding, hitting a one-time shot off the bounce to open the scoring with his first goal of the tournament in the eighth minute:
Higuain added his second in the 28th minute, though this one had a much easier degree of difficulty. A horrible backpass played Higuain through on goal, and he rounded goalkeeper Dani Hernandez before rolling a shot into the empty net:
Venezuela accelerated the pressure and had multiple chances to get on the board, only to be stifled by Sergio Romero. His best moment was this recovery off a deflected shot, somehow finding a way to tip the ball over the bar.
The Argentina goalkeeper was whistled for a penalty at the end of the first half, though, after fouling Josep Martinez. No matter, he held his own on the spot kick. Luis Seijas attempted a Panenka (chip down the middle), and Romero read it the whole way, easily making the save and seizing the momentum back heading into halftime.
Messi got his goal to make it 3-0 on the hour mark, tying Batistuta's record. He worked a combination with Nicolas Gaitan after a poor giveaway, and he nutmegged Hernandez for good measure, etching his name in Argentina lore.
Venezuela got one back in the 71st minute through Salomon Rondon, as his header bounced off the post and in to make it 3-1:
That lifeline was almost non-existent, though. Erik Lamela rolled a shot through Hernandez, who should've done better, to restore the three-goal edge moments after the restart:
Argentina will now face the United States in the semifinals Tuesday night in Houston.