Football: Argentina see off Venezuela to set up titanic Copa clash with Brazil

Argentina's Giovani Lo Celso (left) celebrates with team mates after scoring against Venezuela.
Argentina's Giovani Lo Celso (left) celebrates with team mates after scoring against Venezuela.PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - Argentina delivered a much-improved performance to beat Venezuela 2-0 in the Copa America quarter-finals on Friday (June 28) and set up a mouthwatering last-four meeting with Brazil.

Striker Lautaro Martinez scored for the second game running to put Argentina in front in the 10th minute with a clever back-heeled finish, diverting in a shot from Sergio Aguero following a corner swung in by captain Lionel Messi.

Lionel Scaloni's side had to weather a series of attacks from Venezuela in the second half and it took a strong save from Franco Armani to prevent Ronald Hernandez from levelling.

Substitute Giovani Lo Celso scored Argentina's badly-needed second goal in the 74th minute, passing a loose ball into an empty net after another shot from Aguero squirmed through the hands of Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.

Lo Celso's tap-in sealed a therapeutic win for Argentina in their first game back at the iconic Maracana stadium since their 1-0 extra-time defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, which began a cycle of three consecutive losses in major finals.

They had scraped into the last eight with a nervy 2-0 win over Qatar in their final group-stage game after losing to Colombia and drawing with Paraguay, but they expected a sterner test from Venezuela.

Venezuela once lost 11-0 to Argentina in the 1975 Copa America but they have made remarkable advances in recent years despite a backdrop of political turmoil, reaching the 2017 under-20 World Cup final under current coach Rafael Dudamel.

They were unbeaten in their last three games with Argentina which included a resounding 3-1 win in a friendly in March, and captain Tomas Rincon said ahead of the game it was time his side "made a statement".

But they failed to live up to the hype and barely got into Argentina's area before halftime.

Argentina could have got a second early in the second period when Martinez galloped onto a through ball from Leandro Paredes but his shot clipped the crossbar.

Venezuela then took the initiative with a spell of sustained pressure but Argentina showed a resilience and sense of maturity that was lacking in their shabby displays in the group stage.

Their reward is a first Copa America clash with eternal rivals Brazil since the 2007 final, which they lost 3-0.

The tournament hosts edged Paraguay in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw on Thursday.