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SPORTS | 04-07-2021 00:32

Messi stars as Argentina set up Colombia Copa América semi-final

Captain scores and assists two as Argentina defeat Ecuador 3-0 in Goiânia to reach the Copa América semi-finals.

Lionel Messi scored one goal and laid on two others for his teammates as Argentina beat Ecuador 3-0 in Goiânia on Saturday to reach the Copa América semi-finals.

In Tuesday's last four match, the 14-time winners will play Colombia, who beat Uruguay on penalties earlier in the day.

Messi teed up goals for Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martínez before firing home an injury time free-kick to cap a stunning individual performance.

The scoreline was harsh on Ecuador, who ended the game with 10 men after Pedro Hicapié's dismissal but had been competitive throughout. 

The Albiceleste made a bright start and Martínez almost opened the scoring with a moment of brilliance. He chipped the ball over goalkeeper Hernán Galíndez and then volleyed goalwards, only for Robert Arboldea to block the ball on the line.

Moments later Martínez had a shot deflected wide and from the resulting corner, Germán Pezzella volleyed into the side netting.

Carlos Gruezo almost gifted Argentina a goal when his attempted back pass sent Messi clean through with only Galíndez to beat, but the six-time Ballon d'Or winner saw his shot cannon back off the post.

Up the other end, goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez had to be alert to parry a stunning 20-yard volley by Sebastián Méndez.

Argentina had their own let off seven minutes from half-time when Pervis Estupiñán crossed from the left and Enner Valencia's flicked header narrowly evaded the sliding Alan Franco at the back post

Two minutes later Argentina were in front, with Messi the architect.

First he played in Nicolás González on goal but when he was tackled by Galíndez, Messi reacted quickest and teed up De Paul to score.

There was still time before the break for Galíndez to make an incredible double save from González, before Valencia somehow headed wide from six yards out.

After the break, Valencia remained Ecuador's most likely route back into the match and the livewire forward's near post shot hit Martínez's leg before going behind.

A wicked Estupiñán cross was then almost turned into his own net by Gonzalez.

Messi came close to killing off the tie but his curled effort sailed just past the post, while Aston Villa goalkeeper Martínez denied substitute Gonzalo Plata an equaliser with a near-post block.

Inter Milan forward Martínez finally ended Ecuador's resistence six minutes from time from Messi's pass after Hincapié was caught in possession by Ángel Di María.

And Hincapié completed a miserable few minutes as he was dismissed in injury time after dragging back substitute Di María when clean through, with Messi despatching the free-kick.

 

Record-breaker Ospina

Goalkeeper David Ospina was the hero as Colombia beat Uruguay on penalties in Brasilia.

Ospina saved two spot-kicks in the shoot-out on the day he earned his 112th Colombian cap, moving clear of the previous national record he shared with the iconic Carlos Valderrama.

He dedicated the victory to his civil strife-torn country that would have been one of the twin hosts alongside Argentina before South American football's governing body CONMEBOL moved the tournament to Brazil over coronavirus pandemic concerns and social unrest in Colombia.

"We just want to give joy to our country, a country we want to be full of peace, full of people sharing and enjoying, because we have a beautiful country," said Ospina, 32.

There was little to report in a drab 0-0 draw over the regulation 90 minutes before the quarter-final tie went straight to penalties.

Ospina saved from José Giménez and Matías Viña while Colombia scored all four of their penalties.

It was a huge disappointment for Uruguay's star forward pair Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez, who both converted their spot-kicks but almost certainly have played in their last Copa.

On Friday, Brazil beat Chile 1-0 to reach Monday's semi-final against Peru, who defeated Paraguay 4-3 on penalties after an eventful 3-3 draw that saw both sides finish with 10 men.

– AFP

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