United States 0-4 Argentina: Messi leads Argentina to Copa final

Lionel Messi surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time goal scorer in Tuesday’s Copa America Centenario semifinal in Houston.

Argentina advanced to the Copa America final for the second consecutive year thanks a comfortable 4-0 win over the United States as captain Lionel Messi became the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer on Tuesday.

Runner-up to Chile last year, 14-time South American champion Argentina reached the decider of the centenary tournament on a night that Messi made more history with his record-breaking 55th international goal.

Messi’s inch-perfect free kick in the 32nd minute saw him surpass Gabriel Batistuta in stunning fashion in Houston.

COPA AMERICA: Watch Messi’s incredible free kick

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had earlier teed up Ezequiel Lavezzi – who was forced from the field in the second half after tumbling over an advertising board – for the game’s opening goal in the third minute, while in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain completed the rout with a second-half brace at NRG Stadium.

Argentina – seeking to end a 23-year wait for a major trophy – will now face either defending champion Chile or Colombia in the final.

The USA was without three first-team regulars, with Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the final-four clash. The trio’s absence meant Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski and Kyle Beckerman were called upon, while DeAndre Yedlin also returned to the lineup.

Argentina also had one changed forced upon the team as the suspended Nicolas Gaitan was replaced by Lavezzi in the starting XI.

There were questions asked of Argentina coach Gerardo Martino and his decision to hand Lavezzi just his second start of the tournament, but the China-based forward repaid the faith just three minutes into the match.

3 – @PochoLavezzi scored in the third minute, the earliest the #USMNT has conceded in their #CopaCentenario history. Frustrating.

— OptaJack (@OptaJack) June 22, 2016

Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. insisted they would not give Messi any special attention, something they quickly had to revise as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner played a delightful lofted through-ball to Lavezzi, who guided his effort over the onrushing Brad Guzan as the USA attempted to clear its lines.

Messi could not be stopped from that point, dictating the play and helping Argentina dominate possession as USA was forced to watch on in awe, ending the first half without a shot.

0 – #USMNT did not take a shot in the first half, the second time in the #CopaCentenario a team hasn’t taken one in the first half. Blanked.

— OptaJack (@OptaJack) June 22, 2016

After John Brooks made a last-ditch tackle to deny Gonzalo Higuain, Messi stepped up and executed an inch-perfect free kick just past the half-hour mark.

#VamosArgentina Ese momento en el que grabás a fuego tu nombre en la historia… Simplemente #Messi . pic.twitter.com/HDt2dT0rLb

— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) June 22, 2016

In another moment of brilliance as fans watched on in anticipation, Messi curled a set piece across Guzan and in under the crossbar for his fifth goal of the tournament.

The USA made a change at the break, with teenage sensation Christian Pulisic coming on in place of Wondolowski.

But Argentina continued where it left off in the second half, Higuain springing the offside trap and tucking home his own rebound having initially been denied by Guzan.

Despite the best efforts of captain Michael Bradley to inspire USA, the CONCACAF nation barely threatened as Argentina cruised.

Argentina experienced a heart-in-mouth moment after Lavezzi tumbled over an advertising board following the hour, with medics immediately signalling for an ambulance having appeared to land on his neck. The Heibei China Fortune star, however, was able to get up on his feet, but was left clutching his arm.

Business went on as usual for Argentina and Higuain completed the scoring four minutes from time for his 31st international goal, after Messi squared the ball across the six-yard box for a simple tap-in.

Higuain set to stay at Napoli for five more years – De Laurentiis

The Napoli president wants his Argentinian striker to remain at the Stadio San Paolo until the end of his playing career and praised the 28-year-old’s likeable personality

Gonzalo Higuain is set to continue at Napoli for the next five years, according to club president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Higuain has attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs following his record-breaking season for Napoli in 2015-16. 

The Argentine striker scored 36 goals in 35 Serie A appearances, breaking the league’s long-standing goalscoring record. 

The likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea are all reportedly interested in Higuain, but De Laurentiis says the 28-year-old has committed to Napoli. 

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“If his words are sincere then Higuain will play in Naples for at least another five years,” he told Radio Kiss Kiss

De Laurentiis added: “I am willing to extend his contract, I appreciate him both as a player and a person.

“I would like him to stay in Naples forever.

“He is one of a kind, he plays for the pleasure of scoring goals which is what makes every genuine and self-respecting attacker.”

Higuain is in the United States representing Argentina at the Copa America Centenario, helping the side reach the semi-finals courtesy of two goals against Venezuela.

Argentina 4-1 Venezuela: Magical Messi leads charge

Lionel Messi made his first start of the Copa America Centenario for Argentina against Venezuela, finishing with a goal and two assists.

A Gonzalo Higuain brace and a masterful display from Lionel Messi – who created some more history with a goal of his own – helped Argentina into the Copa America Centenario semifinals after a 4-1 win over Venezuela.

Messi equaled Gabriel Batistuta’s 54-goal record for Argentina, joining the Fiorentina great as their country’s equal top goalscorers when he turned home the third goal to seal his side’s triumph.

His goal followed a first-half brace from Higuain, who looked in inspired form, scoring his 27th and 28th goals for his nation, with Tottenham’s Erik Lamela also getting in on the goalscoring with his first touch of the ball after coming on just four minutes earlier.

Messi – who finished with a goal and two assists – was making his first start of the tournament, lining up in a frightening front three alongside Higuain and Nicolas Gaitan, with Angel Di Maria sitting out through injury.

Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel restored his first-choice team after giving some of the bigger names a break in their final group match, a draw against Mexico, with Salomon Rondon and Josef Martinez given the chance to continue their impressive partnership up top, with the former scoring his team’s consolation.

Luis Seijas missed a first-half penalty for Venezuela when they were trailing 2-0 and that proved to be costly.

WATCH: Seijas misses PK

Messi was always going to be the star of the show and if Higuain took the goalscoring glory, it was the Barcelona star that was playing the role of conductor.

With his magical left foot, Messi spent much of the game’s opening seven minutes bamboozling the Venezuelan defenders, who could only do just enough to crowd out the magician from getting direct shots on goal.

Having been denied twice, Messi took a more direct approach in the eighth minute.

The Barca marvel picked up the ball on the right wing, and having spent the previous seven minutes leaving defenders in his wake, he launched the ball into the Venezuela box, finding Higuain with a gorgeous pass, which the Napoli star could only oblige to put away with a sublime finish.

Messi was then denied what looked a clear penalty after 21 minutes, before Higuain eventually made it 2-0.

It was his 28th goal for his country, and he may never score an easier one after he pounced on a terrible back pass, rounded Daniel Hernandez and calmly put the ball into the back of the net to double Argentina’s lead.

It was the worst possible start for Venezuela, but it fought back admirably in a chaotic finish to the first half.

Sergio Romero and the post denied Rondon before the goalkeeper almost went from hero to villain.

He gave away a penalty by taking out Martinez in the box leaving the referee with no choice, but they could not make the most of the golden opportunity presented to them, as Seijas attempted a panenka which Romero read to make an easy save.

Messi needed less than 15 minutes in the second half to score his record-equaling goal, combining beautifully with Gaitan before placing through Hernandez’s legs.

Rondon gave his side some hope of a remarkable comeback when he registered a deserved goal in the 70th minute, but Lamela ended it less than a minute later when he turned home a lovely Messi pass to seal the result.

De Laurentiis lashes out at Koulibaly

The centre-back hinted at a move away from Naples, prompting the ire of the club’s outspoken president, who “thought he was a good man”

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has spoken of his anger towards Kalidou Koulibaly, who suggested recently the club were showing little interest in keeping him.

Last week, Koulibaly claimed he had offers from other clubs on the table – with Chelsea reportedly one of those – and that talks of a new deal with Napoli were “at a dead end”.

His remarks have infuriated the outspoken De Laurentiis, who claims the club have lost out on millions in merchandising revenue as a result.

“I had thought Koulibaly was a good man,” said the president, in quotes reported by Corriere dello Sport. “The moment I realise you and your agent haven’t read the contracts properly before signing them, I cannot tolerate that.

“Napoli were about to sign new commercial deals to use Koulibaly’s image, but his statements cancelled those opportunities. His jersey cannot be sold now.

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“He created damages worth millions of Euros and I have specialists studying the issue now.

“I’m disappointed he didn’t just call me and ask if Napoli intended to sell Koulibaly or not. I don’t bother other clubs, approaching their players who are under contract.

“If we discovered that Chelsea were behind this, then we could sue them for damages too. Koulibaly is 24 years old, he is not a kid. We stood by him when he was jeered in his first season.

“Out of respect for the club and [coach Maurizio] Sarri, he should not have made those statements. Apologising to the fans is not enough. He will continue working for us for the three years on his contract and maybe many more until he’s paid off the damages to Napoli.”

Meanwhile, amid speculation star striker Gonzalo Higuain could be set to depart, De Laurentiis is confident the Argentinian will not let the club down after all it has done for him.

“So far I have not received offers for Higuain that match the clause, €94.375million, and assuming a club exists that would offer that money, he knows perfectly well that he could earn more elsewhere, but not have the same spotlight,” De Laurentiis said.

“Gonzalo is a good man and Napoli will become for him what it was for Maradona. Diego entered world football history thanks to Napoli.

“If Higuain were to listen to the siren song of European giants, he’d have to take into account that in certain contexts you only play if you do well. Nobody will wait for you there.

“He is young and has a family that believes in healthy values. I have already put the money on the table to improve his contract, which is what he deserves. I have the feeling Pipita will not betray us.”

Argentina v Panama Preview: Higuain urges against complacency as Messi returns

Although Lionel Messi will return for La Albiceleste, another of their attackers is expecting a tough match against minnows Panama on Friday night in Chicago

Gonzalo Higuain does not believe Argentina can take Panama lightly despite Lionel Messi being set to return when they meet in the Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field.

Panama ran out 2-1 winners in their Group D opener against Bolivia, with Argentina joining them at the top of the group after beating Chile by the same scoreline in a repeat of the 2015 final.

Gerardo Martino’s team had to do without talisman Messi as the Barcelona star struggled with a persistent back injury.

The 28-year-old returned to training with his team-mates on Wednesday and having got through another session the following day without any pain, Martino confirmed he would return for the match in Chicago.

It will be a huge boost for Argentina, and Higuain acknowledged the importance of getting their campaign off to a positive without him.

“We had to win because it’s a tough Copa. Great teams are playing and it was important to start with three points. Then you can let Leo recover and play when he is well,” he told Ole.

Napoli striker Higuain was pleased Argentina started their campaign by defeating the defending champions, but anticipates another trying match against Panama.

“It was an important result, but we must not overlook any opponent. It’s a very strong Copa and all matches are going to be extremely difficult,” he said.

“We saw a compact and tough team. They are physically strong, with players that play well in space and they are a team that will generate threats.”

Higuain was replaced by Sergio Aguero during the win over Chile and will face competition from the Manchester City striker in order to retain his starting berth, while Messi will likely replace Nicolas Gaitan on the right-hand side of a front three.

Panama boss Hernan Gomez could make changes in with Valentin Pimentel and Luis Henriquez pushing for a place in the starting line-up.

Regardless of who he picks, Gomez insists his team will not be scared of taking the highest ranked team in the world.

“We are not scared of facing Argentina. They are the runners-up of the World Cup and the Copa America, but do not scare us,” he said.

“When you’re working with a team you cannot change the way they have played for two years.”

Having both won their opening matches of the tournament, the winners on Friday will put themselves in pole position to top the group and book a quarter-final berth.