COPA AMERICA

Argentina will get better, says Messi

But forward, who is likely to start, insists Venezuela should not be underestimated

FOXBOROUGH (Massachussetts) • Argentina did not need the full services of Lionel Messi as they easily topped Group D at the Copa America Centenario.

But they will have their fully-fit talisman this morning (Singapore time) to drive them on as they face Venezuela in the quarter-finals.

And the star forward says there is more to come from his side.

"As we move forward, we're going to grow," Messi, who sat out the opening game against Chile with a back complaint but scored a hat-trick as a substitute against Panama and also started from the bench against Bolivia, told Ole.

"We are doing well in all aspects. We have already been working together for a while and have got to know the coaching staff, and them us. From the beginning until now, we have grown a lot."

Venezuela, despite faring poorly in South American World Cup qualifying without a win, entered the quarter-finals at the expense of 15-time winners Uruguay in Group C and were only denied top spot by Mexico's superior goal difference.

Messi, who is likely to start today, insists Rafael Dudamel's team cannot be underestimated.

He said: "We are aware there is no margin for error. Some think Venezuela are an easy opponent but they are not. They are not better than Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, obviously, but if Venezuela are there, they deserve it."

Venezuela clinched their last-eight spot with a 1-0 win over Uruguay and Salomon Rondon, who scored the goal, declared that they do not fear Argentina.

"We believe in our ability. We have prepared well, and even though we are playing a difficult rival, we don't feel like we're below anyone," he said.

On Friday, goalkeeper David Ospina was the hero as Colombia ended their penalty shoot-out jinx to defeat Peru 4-2 and advance to the semi-finals.

He pulled off a superb save deep into stoppage time to deny Peru a winner before saving a spot kick in the shoot-out to clinch the win.

A largely disappointing quarter-final in front of 79,194 fans at East Rutherford's MetLife Stadium was settled via penalties after the two sides finished 90 minutes deadlocked at 0-0.

After Colombia drilled in their first three penalties, the tide turned in their favour when Miguel Trauco saw his effort blocked by Ospina. Sebastian Perez scored the fourth penalty to put Colombia 4-2 up. It proved to be the winner when Peru's Christian Cueva blasted his spot kick over the bar.

Victory was especially sweet for Colombia, who exited the competition last year at the same stage to Argentina. They will now play either Mexico or Chile in the semi-finals in Chicago on Wednesday.

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and today luck was on our side in the penalties," Colombia's James Rodriguez said. "Our goal was to get into the semi-finals at least and we've done that. Now we want to win the title."

Ospina, who plays for Arsenal, said he believed Colombia could reach the June 26 final.

"I contributed my bit, and we want to keep going from here," he said. "We can get to the final. The semi will be tough whoever we face."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Argentina will get better, says Messi'. Print Edition | Subscribe