By Sacha Pisani:Goal News
Lionel Messi surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time goal scorer in Tuesday’s Copa America Centenario semifinal in Houston.
Argentina advanced to the Copa America final for the second consecutive year thanks a comfortable 4-0 win over the United States as captain Lionel Messi became the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer on Tuesday.
Runner-up to Chile last year, 14-time South American champion Argentina reached the decider of the centenary tournament on a night that Messi made more history with his record-breaking 55th international goal.
Messi’s inch-perfect free kick in the 32nd minute saw him surpass Gabriel Batistuta in stunning fashion in Houston.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had earlier teed up Ezequiel Lavezzi – who was forced from the field in the second half after tumbling over an advertising board – for the game’s opening goal in the third minute, while in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain completed the rout with a second-half brace at NRG Stadium.
Argentina – seeking to end a 23-year wait for a major trophy – will now face either defending champion Chile or Colombia in the final.
The USA was without three first-team regulars, with Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the final-four clash. The trio’s absence meant Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman were called upon, while DeAndre Yedlin also returned to the lineup.
Argentina also had one changed forced upon the team as the suspended Nicolas Gaitan was replaced by Lavezzi in the starting XI.
There were questions asked of Argentina coach Gerardo Martino and his decision to hand Lavezzi just his second start of the tournament, but the China-based forward repaid the faith just three minutes into the match.
OptaJack ✔ @OptaJack
3 – @PochoLavezzi scored in the third minute, the earliest the #USMNT has conceded in their #CopaCentenario history. Frustrating.
9:12 AM – 22 Jun 2016
Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. insisted they would not give Messi any special attention, something they quickly had to revise as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner played a delightful lofted through-ball to Lavezzi, who guided his effort over the onrushing Brad Guzan as the USA attempted to clear its lines.
Messi could not be stopped from that point, dictating the play and helping Argentina dominate possession as USA was forced to watch on in awe, ending the first half without a shot.
OptaJack ✔ @OptaJack
0 – #USMNT did not take a shot in the first half, the second time in the #CopaCentenario a team hasn’t taken one in the first half. Blanked.
9:56 AM – 22 Jun 2016
After John Brooks made a last-ditch tackle to deny Gonzalo Higuain, Messi stepped up and executed an inch-perfect free kick just past the half-hour mark.
Selección Argentina ✔ @Argentina
#VamosArgentina Ese momento en el que grabás a fuego tu nombre en la historia… Simplemente #Messi. pic.twitter.com/HDt2dT0rLb
10:02 AM – 22 Jun 2016
In another moment of brilliance as fans watched on in anticipation, Messi curled a set piece across Guzan and in under the crossbar for his fifth goal of the tournament.
The USA made a change at the break, with teenage sensation Christian Pulisic coming on in place of Wondolowski.
But Argentina continued where it left off in the second half, Higuain springing the offside trap and tucking home his own rebound having initially been denied by Guzan.
Despite the best efforts of captain Michael Bradley to inspire USA, the CONCACAF nation barely threatened as Argentina cruised.
Argentina experienced a heart-in-mouth moment after Lavezzi tumbled over an advertising board following the hour, with medics immediately signalling for an ambulance having appeared to land on his neck. The Heibei China Fortune star, however, was able to get up on his feet, but was left clutching his arm.
Business went on as usual for Argentina and Higuain completed the scoring four minutes from time for his 31st international goal, after Messi squared the ball across the six-yard box for a simple tap-in.