When Lionel Messi is really in the mood there is little an opposition defence can do to stop him and for all of Venezuela’s confident pre-match talk and Rafael Dudamel’s tactical tweaking of his midfield, the world’s best player orchestrated an Argentina victory which books a semi final clash on Tuesday against the United States.
Dudamel opted to name a three-man midfield in an attempt to stifle Messi’s ability to run inside and operate in the space behind Gonzalo Higuaín but almost immediately it was clear that it wouldn’t be quite so straight forward.
Messi had already threatened with a couple of darting runs before dropping deep on the right in the eighth minute and delivering a pass of surgical precision for Gonzalo Higuaín to run onto and strike first time past the helpless Daniel Hernández.
Solomán Rondón was causing a few problems of his own at the other end and drew an excellent stop from Sergio Romero but it was La Albiceleste who continued to probe and looked like adding a second.
Referee Roberto García spared Venezuela when he waved away a clear penalty for a foul on Messi but it only served to delay the inevitable.
An awful backpass by Arquimedes Figuera was eagerly snapped up by Higuaín and the in-form Napoli striker rounded Hernández to roll in number two.
Any chance Venezuela had of getting back into the game was surely lost during a bright last ten minutes of the half in which La Vinotinto struck the post through Rondón and spurned a glorious chance from the penalty spot.
Romero brought down Josef Martínez but made amends when he correctly read Luis Seijas’ attempted Panenka, making the simplest of saves and leaving the Independiente de Santa Fe midfielder red faced.
Argentina regrouped at the break and Venezuela’s chance appeared gone, with a third Albiceleste goal looking far more likely than any comeback.
On the hour mark it arrived and it was of course Messi – a quick interchange with Nicolás Gaitán left the Barcelona star with a simple finish and it marked not only his fourth of the tournament but his 54th in an Argentina shirt, drawing level with Gabriel Batistuta as the record goalscorer.
Rondón did head in a consolation goal but within a minute of cutting the deficit, Messi fed substitute Érik Lamela and his low shot squirmed past Hernández.
There is no time to rest for Gerardo Martino’s side as preparation begins immediately for Tuesday’s semi final against the United States in Houston.