Argentina on song, with Messi's assists

Paraguay's goalkeeper Justo Villar fails to stop a goal by Argentina's Angel di Maria during their Copa semi-final. Lionel Messi expects a good final against Chile because he says both teams take a positive approach and like to get the ball back once
Paraguay's goalkeeper Justo Villar fails to stop a goal by Argentina's Angel di Maria during their Copa semi-final. Lionel Messi expects a good final against Chile because he says both teams take a positive approach and like to get the ball back once possession is lost.PHOTO: REUTERS

He doesn't score but three passes help team land 6-1 win to advance to final against Chile

CONCEPCION (Chile) • As Lionel Messi has developed during his football career, he has become an ever-more prolific provider of assists as well as a lethal scorer, and he gave another wonderful display of creativity at the Copa America on Tuesday.

The Argentina forward, who has yet to find the net from open play in five games at the tournament in Chile, set up three goals for his team-mates in a 6-1 drubbing of Paraguay that secured a clash against the hosts in Saturday's final.

It was the first time Messi made three assists in a single game for his country and only the second time in his career after he achieved the feat playing for Barcelona in a King's Cup match against Levante in January last year.

The 28-year-old has 31 assists for club and country in 2014-15, two short of his record of 33 from 2011-12.

"It really doesn't bother me that I am not scoring," Messi said after the match in Concepcion.

"Hopefully, my goal will come in the final. The important thing is to lift the national team as high as possible and it doesn't matter who gets the goals."

Messi is attempting to win the Copa America to cap a superb season in which he helped Barca win a treble of Champions League and domestic league and Cup titles.

He has bounced back in style from a disappointing 2013-14 campaign, when Barca failed to collect major silverware and Argentina were beaten 1-0 by Germany in the World Cup final.

Argentina are trying to win the Copa for the first time since 1993, having lost to Brazil in 2004 and 2007 before being knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals on home soil in 2011.

Messi said: "I think we are coming into the final in good shape but we will be playing a team with very good individual players.

"Both sides always try to play good football and not leave the opponents any time on the ball."

If he wants to score in the final, he knows the man in the Chile goal he will have to beat very well: Barcelona team-mate Claudio Bravo.

On Tuesday, Argentina were at their imperious best, with Angel di Maria scoring twice and their other goals coming from Marcos Rojo, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. It was a superb team display, orchestrated by an inspired Messi.

But coach Gerardo Martino believes Argentina must improve, adding that aspects of a goal-less draw with Colombia in the previous round had pleased him more.

His main gripe was that his players failed to press the Paraguayans hard enough to win back possession when they lost the ball.

"Our play was much better than in the match against Colombia," he said, referring to the tense quarter-final clash that was settled in a penalty shoot-out. "But in terms of winning back the ball, anywhere on the pitch, I think we were better in the game against Colombia.

"I'm happy about the 6-1 scoreline and playing in the final but if there's something that needs correcting, I'll correct it, whether we draw 0-0, lose or win."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Argentina on song, with Messi's assists'. Print Edition | Subscribe