Ron fizzles, Messi dazzles

At Copa, Argentina skipper shows no signs of rust on his return with record-tying goal

Lionel Messi tied Gabriel Batistuta's national goal record with his strike against Venezuela. The Argentina ace will hope to equal the former national striker on another count by winning the Copa America.
Lionel Messi tied Gabriel Batistuta's national goal record with his strike against Venezuela. The Argentina ace will hope to equal the former national striker on another count by winning the Copa America.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

At Copa, Argentina skipper shows no signs of rust on his return with record-tying goal

FOXBOROUGH (Massachusetts) • After Argentina's 4-1 win over Venezuela in the Copa America Centenario quarter-finals on Saturday, Gonzalo Higuain was announced as Man of the Match to mild cheering.

But two seconds later, the public address announcer said, "Correction, the Man of the Match is No. 10, Lionel Messi," and the 59,183 fans in attendance roared their approval.

Playing in the same town, but not the same stadium, where Diego Maradona scored his final goal for Argentina in the 1994 World Cup, Messi put on the show so many had come to see.

His back had been injured in a warm-up game against Honduras, and he had been used off the bench during the tournament before Saturday. But as usual, when he is on the field, he is unparalleled.

The Argentinian forward, a rival to Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo for consideration as the world's best footballer, demonstrated his gifts as soon as the eighth minute.

As he drifted wide to the right in plenty of space, Messi lofted a gorgeous, looping pass to Higuain, who was cutting back from the left.

Higuain beat goalkeeper Dani Hernandez with a one-touch half-volley into the far corner in the ninth minute and the rout was on. He added the second in the 28th minute.

Messi made it 3-0 in the 60th minute and then set up Erik Lamela for the fourth goal in the 71st minute as Argentina beat Venezuela for the 20th time in 21 matches.

Salomon Rondon got the lightest of touches on a cross to head home for Venezuela in the 70th minute.

Messi's goal was his 54th in international play, tying him with Gabriel Batistuta. He is also second in the tournament scoring chart with four goals, two behind Chile's Eduardo Vargas.

"I am happy to have equalled Batistuta's record but my head is focused on lifting the Copa America," said the five-time World Player of the Year.

"We are doing things right. We are growing and we need to keep down that same road."

Argentina will now face the United States in the first semi-final tomorrow in Houston.

The Americans do have an impressive win over Argentina on their resume in this very tournament.

In the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay, they beat Argentina 3-0.

But of course, there was no Messi on the field that day.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'At Copa, Argentina skipper shows no signs of rust on his return with record-tying goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe