New England Soccer Today

Messi’s Magic Spurs Argentina to Semis

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Photo gallery: Kari Heistad/

Via Prost Amerika

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Lionel Messi led Argentina to a 4-1 win over Venezuela in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinal Saturday. The Argentine scored one goal and assisted two, which tied him with Gabriel Batistuta at 54 goals as Argentina’s all-time top scorer.

59,183 people packed into Gillette Stadium on Saturday night to watch a magic show, except it wasn’t David Blaine the near sell-out crowd came to see — it was Argentina’s Lionel Messi, and the World’s best player did not disappoint.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric even as press filtered in two hours before the game. Fans from all over the state had come to watch one thing, and one thing only — Lionel Messi. An hour before kick off with Gillette Stadium half full, Messi was shown on the LED scoreboard, and the bowl below erupted.

Walking around the concourse you get a sense of just how popular the diminutive Argentinian is in the United States. Three out of every four people wore shirts emblazoned with the Barcelona stars name. Chants of “Messi! Messi! Messi!” echoed around the stadium for about twenty minutes prior to kick-off right through until half time.

Argentina started the game the way they ended their group games against Panama, and Bolivia: with confidence and style. Every time Messi touched the ball in the first two minutes was met with excited applause and awe, and it wasn’t long before Lionel Messi provided a moment of magic for his army of fans.

Just eight minutes had been played when Messi picked the ball up about forty yards or so from goal, and struck a ball so perfectly weighted that Gonzalo Higuain couldn’t believe his luck.

As soon as Messi hit the pass it was as though the world froze for a moment… the pass took out four defenders on its way to finding its target. A ball only Lionel Messi could have played — It looked like he knew Higuain was going to make the run before the in-form Napoli marksman knew he was.

Higuain, clearly still confident from his twenty-nine goal showing in Serie A this season, extended his right foot through the ball while stretching to his right, giving the Venezuela goalkeeper Dani Hernandez no chance. It was a fitting way for the World’s best player to break the all-time Copa America assist record, which now stands at 8 (and later became 9).

Argentina’s second goal came in the 28th minute and it was Higuain again who delivered the knockout punch. Reinforcing Tata Martino’s decision to keep Aguero on the bench, Higuain pounced on an awful backpass by Arquimedes Figuera, rounded Dani Hernandez, and put Argentina safely up 2-0.

Between the two goals, though, there was plenty of action. Venezuela threw everything at Argentina in return and Salomon Rondon went close after a ball was looped back into the box from an Argentina failed clearance but missed his connection by inches.

Almost immediately at the other end Lionel Messi was clearly fouled by Figuera while breaking through on goal but Mexican referee Roberto Garcia inexplicably waved play-on and Messi lay on the turf dumfounded while his teammates protested in his absence.

This seemed to rile Venezuela as they consequently enjoyed their best stint of the game and in the 35th minute Rondon again went close has he barreled through the porous Argentinian defence, lacing a powerful left-footed shot toward goal that Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero somehow got a power left hand to. Minutes later Rolf Feltscher had a dig from distance and his deflected shot looked like it had caught Romero out, but the United number two produced another incredible acrobatic save to deny Venezuela.

Though Messi’s magic and Higuain’s incisive finishing had proved the magic behind Argentina’s 2-0 lead, Sergio Romero was emerging as the star of the show after his string of acrobatic saves — until he gave away a penalty in the 43rd minute after clumsily bringing down Josef Martinez at his near post.

It was just reward for Venezuela’s endeavoring play despite being 2-0 down, and Luis Manuel Seijas had a chance to put them right back in the game. He lined up over the penalty, made his run-up and chipped it deftly… into Romero’s arms.

Seijas was subsequently removed in the 55th minute.

It was all downhill from there for Venezuela — Seijas’ penalty took all of the momentum Venezuela had worked so hard to build, and threw it away. Argentina started the second half just as brightly as the first and in this 60th minute the 59,183 strong crowd got what they came for. Messi broke with the ball over the half-way line and played it right to Nicolas Gaitan who played an inch perfect lay off back to Messi who finished the play off by nutmegging Dani Hernandez from about 4 yards out.

Venezuela pulled a goal back through Salomon Rondo off an Alejandro Guerra cross in the 70th minute, but any hope Venezuela had of pulling another back was nullified just seconds later when Erik Lamela, a 67th minute substitute for Nicolas Gaitan, squeezed a shot past Hernandez at his near post.

Messi’s magisterial performance exemplified exactly why he is so popular throughout the world. He pulled strings for his teammates and played tricks on the Venezuelan defense all night long at Gillette, and he did it without looking as if he was trying.

Led by the magic of Messi and the ruthlessness of Higuain, this Argentina team looks like they’ll be stopped by nothing. Argentina face Copa America hosts the United States Men’s National Team on Tuesday night at Solider Field in the semi-finals, and the Americans that chanted Messi’s name Saturday evening will likely be quivering in their boots at the prospect.

The “show” finished as it began, with 59,183 people chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi!” The continuation of his legend strengthened by yet another historic night.

Player Ratings

Argentina: Romero 8; Mercado 7; Nicolas Otamendi 6; Funes Mori 6; Rojo 7; Mascherano 7; Augusto Fernandez 6; Ever Banega 7 (Biglia NR); Nicolas Gaitan 8 (Lamela 7); Lionel Messi 10; Gonzalo Higuain 9 (Sergio Aguero NR).

Venezuela: Hernandez 4; Gonzalez 6; Wilker 6; Vizcarrondo 6; Feltscher 7; Guerra 7; Rincón 6 (Velasquez NR); Figuera 3; Seijas 3 (Anor 5); Martinez 6 (Del Valle NR); Rondon 7.

Referee: Roberto Garcia (Mexico)

Attendance: 59,183

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