Argentina cruised into the Copa América semi finals last night, adding another four goals to their impressive tally in the United States, with victory over Venezuela. Lionel Messi’s first start and landmark goal meant the Barcelona star dominated much of the headlines but Gonzalo Higuaín’s brace was a welcome return to goal scoring form on the international scene.
Looking back on events in Foxborough, who was the pick of the bunch in the win against La Vinotinto?
Sergio Romero – 7.5
Chiquito may permanently be considered a second-choice club goalkeeper but he continues to impress when playing for Argentina. The 29-year-old’s performance, particularly in the first half, was a vital part of the victory as Venezuela’s short spell of dominance didn’t end in them narrowing the lead. Two top saves preceded the penalty stop (yes he was at fault for giving away the penalty but Otamendi shares the blame for that) and although Rondón did later find a way past him, Romero was excellent.
Gabriel Mercado – 6.5
Wasn’t able to get forward as much as he has in previous matches but Mercado did everything that was asked of him defensively and will certainly retain his place in Martino’s back four.
Nicolás Otamendi – 5.5
A typically powerful performance from the Manchester City defender but had a difficult time trying to contain Solomán Rondón. The West Brom striker was a constant threat and outjumped Otamendi to head against the upright before losing him again to nod in the consolation goal.
Ramiro Funes Mori – 6
Like Otamendi, Funes Mori struggled at times to contain Rondón and it was his sloppy pass out of the defence that led to the Venezuela goal.
Marcos Rojo – 6
Rojo stuck to his defensive duties well but unfortunately, as is often the case when the Manchester United defender is afforded the space to get forward, his final ball was lacking.
Augusto Fernández – 7
Augusto Fernández’s role in the side is to provide a foundation in the attack and in terms of covering ground and winning back possession the Atlético Madrid midfielder performed well. There is at times a slight disconnect with the offence with Fernández passing sideways but that seems more systemic rather than any fault of the player.
Javier Mascherano – 6
Certainly not one of El Jefecito’s best games in an Argentina shirt and when he was caught in possession in the first half it really should have ended in a Venezuela goal.
Éver Banega – 7.5
Still lacks a little consistency but Banega’s role in the side is of increasing importance and his understanding with Messi is one that is hugely beneficial to the side. Where Messi is given a free license to roam, Banega is tasked with keeping Argentina moving forward and linking together all that Argentina do in the opponent’s half.
Lionel Messi – 9
Another decisive performance from the world’s best player marked by his 54th international goal, joining Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s leading goal scorer. From the first minute, Messi buzzed around the Venezuelan defence posing a threat and his pass to unlock the backline and find Higuaín was one which no one else on the pitch could have pulled off. The Barcelona star is desperate for success in the United States and his performances to date certainly show that.
Nicolás Gaitán – 7
Another good performance from the new Atlético Madrid signing, who has proved to be a good addition to the attack and provides a nice natural width that was sometimes before his introduction. A careless booking in the first half means Gaitán misses the semi final.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 9
Higuaín’s brace won’t win over his critics just yet but the Napoli striker looked every inch the world class number nine on Saturday night. His run and first time finish from Messi’s lofted pass in the 8th minute was superb and he showed good awareness and composure to punish the weak backpass for his second. The performance was certainly enough to retain his place in the starting eleven but after his misses in two previous major finals, Pipita needs more to truly gain redemption.
Érik Lamela – 6.5
The Spurs midfielder had an immediate impact when he squeezed in Argentina’s fourth within minutes of coming on. Lamela has become a key figure in Martino’s squad and with Gaitán suspended for the semi final, the 24-year-old could be in line to start.
Sergio Agüero – 6
Coming on for Higuaín with less than 15 minutes remaining, Agüero didn’t get much of a chance to impress and certainly won’t have done enough to wrestle the starting number nine slot.
Lucas Biglia – Only a few minutes for the Lazio midfielder after his injury problems.