The U.S. national team’s wait to learn their 2016 Copa America Centenario semifinals opponent was long — nearly 48 hours since the Yanks toppled Ecuador on Thursday — but it’s finally over.
The answer: as expected, Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Mascherano and the rest of Argentina.
Saturday’s quarterfinal between the 14-time Copa America winners and Venezuela was over not long after it started, with La Albiceleste going ahead in the eighth minute via the lethal Messi-to-Higuain connection. It’s hard to say whether the pass from Messi, or the first-time finish from Higuain, is the better part of this goal, so we’ll say they’re equally great.
Higuain’s second of the night — the 28th of his international career — came 20 minutes later, in the 28th minute, and was an exponentially easier finish for the Napoli goal-getter.
Venezuela weren’t without chances of their own prior to halftime — Salomon Rondon was denied by a spectacular Sergio Romero save in the 34th minute, and again by the post when his header clanged off the woodwork six minutes later. Then Venezuela were awarded a penalty, which ended as badly as any penalty ever taken. When Panenka-ing goes wrong…
Lionel Messi bagged the 54th goal of his international career, tying Gabriel Batistuta’s all-time record for the Argentine national team. Much like Higuain’s second, Venezuela made it far too easy for a player of Messi’s quality, as he latched onto the ball inside the penalty area, walked toward the six-yard box and finished without a care in the world.
What followed shortly after were two goals, one for either side, in the span of barely a minute. Rondon succesffully pulled a goal back for Venezuela in the 70th minute, but Erik Lamela restored the three-goal lead in the 71st. “Game on” lasted all of 60 seconds. Final score: Argentina 4-1 Venezuela.
Argentina will face Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT in the first of two Copa America semifinals Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET) in Houston, Tex.