Houston - Lionel Messi became Argentina's
all-time record goalscorer as the two-time world champions outclassed the
United States 4-0 to reach the Copa America Centenario final here on Tuesday.
Messi curled in a magnificent 32nd-minute
free-kick to take his total to 55 goals as the United States' campaign ended
with an emphatic defeat in front of a 70 858 crowd at Houston's NRG Stadium.
The five-time world player of the year now
has five goals in this Copa America as he aims to lead Argentina to their first
major title in 23 years.
The Barcelona superstar also created
Argentina's opening goal for Ezequiel Lavezzi and was involved in the build-up
for their third, scored by Gonzalo Higuain in the 50th minute. Messi then laid
on the pass for Higuain's second four minutes from time.
"We've been playing well from day one
and we deserve to be in the final," said a delighted Messi, dedicating his
goals tally to the work of his team-mates.
"I'm happy to have the record, and I'm
happy to play with the teammates that have made it possible. I owe it to
them," said Messi, who is now one clear of Gabriel Batistuta's mark of 54
US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, meanwhile, said
his team had showed Argentina "too much respect" after a display
which saw them finish with zero shots on or off target.
"I think in general we had too much
respect," Klinsmann said while hailing Argentina as the "number one
team in the world."
"I told the guys there's nothing to be
ashamed of. We have to learn and move forward," Klinsman said. "We
have to keep our heads up and swallow it. But Argentina are a special
Argentina will now face either Chile or
Colombia in Sunday's final at East Rutherford, New Jersey - their third major
final in three years after reaching the finals of the 2015 Copa America and
2014 World Cup.
A disastrous start for the United States
saw the hosts fall behind after only three minutes when they gifted possession
to Messi on the edge of the area.
The Argentina captain instantly spotted
that Lavezzi was unmarked and lofted a first time pass through to the
China-based midfielder to head home.
Argentina might have doubled their lead
five minutes later, when Ever Banega back heeled to pick out Marcos Rojo, who
crossed for Messi, only for the Albiceleste skipper to shoot over.
Messi was again on the prowl in the 14th
minute, seizing upon another American mistake to burst clear from near halfway
before firing a shot which Brad Guzan managed to gather safely.
With Argentina monopolizing possession, it
was only a matter of time before the South Americans scored again.
The second goal almost came on 22 minutes
when Messi released Higuain with a quick free-kick into the penalty area, only
for Geoff Cameron to snuff out the danger with a desperate tackle.
But just after the half-hour mark the US defence
buckled, Messi causing panic on another foray before being bundled over with a
crude challenge by Chris Wondolowski, who was promptly booked.
From the ensuing free-kick, Messi stepped
up to curl in his magnificent record-equalling effort and Argentina were 2-0
Klinsmann introduced Borussia Dortmund
teenager Christian Pulisic at half-time for the ineffective Wondolowski but
within five minutes it was 3-0.
Once again, the US coughed up possession in
midfield and from the left flank Lavezzi picked out Higuain in the penalty
Higuain's first shot was saved by Guzan,
but the Napoli striker was on hand to tap in the simplest of rebounds.
With hope ebbing away, the remaining 40
minutes became an exercise in damage limitation for the Americans.
The hosts earned a brief respite from the
onslaught when play was held up after Lavezzi injured himself falling over a
hoarding, but Argentina were quickly back in control.
The only surprise was that it took until 86
minutes for Argentina to grab their fourth, Messi pouncing on yet another US
mistake to burst into the box before squaring for Higuain to finish with