CONCEPCION, CHILE (REUTERS/AFP) - Argentina produced their best performance of the Copa America so far to crush Paraguay 6-1 on Tuesday and set up a classic final against hosts Chile.
Defender Marcos Rojo and midfielder Javier Pastore gave them a 2-0 lead within the first half hour, both goals set up by an inspirational Lionel Messi.
Paraguay pulled a goal back through striker Lucas Barrios in the 43rd minute to reduce the deficit heading into the half-time break before the Argentines ran riot in the second half as Di Maria scored twice in six minutes before strikers Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain added their fifth and sixth.
Argentina had scored only four goals in their four previous matches but Messi said it was not because the team had not been playing well.
Noted Messi, who is seeking his first senior national team title:: "We talked about that just before the match and we said it was just chance that we hadn't scored more because we've been playing well. Today all the goals came at once."
Although the four-time FIFA world player of the year failed to end his run of more than 900 minutes without an international goal from open play, he turned creator as Argentina tore Paraguay apart.
Gerardo Martino's side took the lead after 15 minutes when Messi swung a free kick in from the left, Rojo failed to connect cleanly with his first touch but swept the ball home from close range with his second.
Argentina doubled their lead 12 minutes later and again Messi was the provider, threading an inch-perfect pass through the Paraguayan defence for Pastore to run on to. His powerful low shot gave goalkeeper Justo Villar no chance.
Things went from bad to worse for Paraguay when both their strikers, Derliz Gonzalez and Roque Santa Cruz, limped off injured.
Santa Cruz's replacement, Barrios, gave them hope with a goal just before the break but in the second half Argentina were unstoppable.
Minutes into the second half Pastore burst through midfield and fed Di Maria, who buried a left-foot shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Six minutes later Messi destroyed the Paraguayan defence with a mazy run to set up Pastore. His shot was parried by Villar but Di Maria was on hand to slot home the rebound.
On 80 minutes Di Maria turned provider, crossing from the left for Aguero to head home, and minutes later Higuain came off the bench to score a sixth for his country's biggest win in a competitive game since 1947.
Argentina, who finished runners-up in last year's World Cup, are chasing their first Copa America crown since 1993.
They will face Chile, who are chasing their first ever Copa America title, at Santiago's national stadium on Saturday.