RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Argentina beat Venezuela 2-0 on Friday and will face Brazil in the Copa América semifinals.
Lionel Messi failed to impress against Venezuela but Argentina gave its most solid performance in four matches.
Brazil and Argentina will face off on Tuesday at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirão Stadium. The Brazilians advanced on Thursday after beating Paraguay on penalties after a goal less draw in Porto Alegre.
Brazilian and Argentine fans at Maracanã Stadium hinted at how intense the atmosphere will be on Tuesday. The Brazilians jokingly sang about Messi’s lack of titles for his national team, while Argentines poked fun by singing Diego Maradona is better than Pelé.
Striker Lautaro Martínez scored from a back heel kick after 10 minutes, deflecting a shot by Sergio Agüero from the edge of the box.
Another blocked shot by Agüero led to midfielder Giovani Lo Celso doubling the lead in the 74th.
Lo Celso, who entered just a few minutes before, just pushed the ball into the empty net to seal Argentina’s win in front of 50,000 fans.
“Brazil will be a very tough rival, and that isn’t only because they will play at home,” Lautaro said.
“We had an amazing first half. We are showing that in every match we give it all.”
Argentina, back for the first time in the stadium where it lost the 2014 World Cup final 1-0 to Germany, was the only team trying to score in the beginning of the quarterfinal and managed to do so when Lautaro converted its third clear chance.
Venezuela’s first opportunity came only after 40 minutes, with a header by defender Jhon Chancellor.
The story of the match didn’t change much in the second half, with a slower Argentina still enjoying the best chances.
At 71 minutes, shortly before Lo Celso scored Argentina’s second, Venezuela striker Ronald Hernández was stopped by goalkeeper Franco Armani in the key save of the match.
Venezuela played without its two starting central defenders, Yordan Osorio and Mikel Villanueva. Osorio had a fever and Villanueva suffered from muscular problems. They were replaced by Chancellor and Jose Rosales.