RIO DE JANEIRO - Lionel Messi was shackled and yet Argentina flourished to beat Venezuela 2-0 on Friday and set up a Copa America semifinal against Brazil.
Marked closely by Venezuelan defenders, Messi failed to impress at Maracana Stadium, but his teammates took advantage to give their most solid performance in four matches.
Brazil and Argentina will face off on Tuesday at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium. The Brazilians advanced on Thursday after beating Paraguay on penalties.
The nearly 50,000 Brazilian and Argentine fans at Maracana hinted at how intense the atmosphere will be on Tuesday. The Brazilians jokingly sang about Messi’s lack of titles for his national team, while Argentines poked fun by singing Diego Maradona is better than Pele.
“We have to play in the same way we have, and not thinking it is our archrival,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said about the upcoming clash. “It will be a match for the people of football to live. Not as much for us on the bench.”
Striker Lautaro Martinez, who was chosen man of the match, scored from a back heel kick after 10 minutes, deflecting a shot by Sergio Agueero from the edge of the box.
Another blocked shot by Agueero led to midfielder Giovani Lo Celso doubling the lead in the 74th.
Lo Celso, who entered just a few minutes before, just pushed the ball into the empty net to seal Argentina’s win.