Argentina might be the overwhelming favourites to lift this year’s Copa América but after the heartbreak of two consecutive final defeats, La Albiceleste are not taking anything for granted. On Tuesday night in Houston, the United States stand in the way of Gerardo Martino’s side and Jürgen Klinsmann insists that his side are not afraid of facing Lionel Messi and the number one ranked side in world football.
Panama and Venezuela have both discovered first hand at this Copa América that stopping Lionel Messi is no easy task and after equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s goal scoring record on Saturday, the Barcelona star has his sights set firmly on ending Argentina’s 23-year wait for a trophy.
The United States are likely to prove a tougher nut to crack than Argentina’s opponents so far but will perhaps need to produce the best performance in the nation’s history if they are to stop an Albiceleste side that has cruised to the semi finals scoring 14 goals (the first side to do since 1959) and conceding just two.
Lionel Messi made his first start of the tournament in the quarter final victory against Venezuela and was in imperious form but Gonzalo Higuaín’s return to goal scoring form makes the Argentina attack all the more threatening.
The only change to the side that swept aside La Vinotinto in Foxborough will see Ezequiel Lavezzi replace the suspended (and injured) Nicolás Gaitán.
Pocho’s move to the Chinese Super League in January suggested his international career maybe over but Martino has stuck with the 31-year-old, who impressed against a pretty dreadful Bolivian side earlier in the competition.
Certainly on paper, Argentina look formidable and with Sergio Agüero, Érik Lamela and possibly Ángel Di María to come off the bench, the United States will have their hands full.
Argentina probable XI: Sergio Romero; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolás Otamendi, Ramiro Funes Morí, Marcos Rojo; Augusto Fernández, Javier Mascherano, Éver Banega; Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ezequiel Lavezzi
While Argentina desperately look to end their trophy drought, the US aim for a piece of history of their own by reaching a first ever Copa América final.
The victory over Ecuador in the quarter finals was deserved and although it provided the US with two more days preparation time than Argentina it came at a cost after Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya all picked up suspensions.
USA probable XI: Brad Guzan; DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson; Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley; Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes
The United States have a more favourable head-to-head record against Argentina than most international sides can boast and although none have meant as much as this, perhaps Klinsmann’s side can take something from this.
In the five meetings between the two sides, Argentina have won twice, the US won the first match in 1995 and there have been two draws.
Argentina’s last victory came in 2007 when the sides met in Venezuela and goals from Hernán Crespo, Pablo Aimar and Carlos Tevez gave Alfio Basile’s side a 4-1 win. Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Kyle Beckerman all featured in that game.
Since there have have two draws, the most recent coming in 2011 in a friendly in New Jersey.
With no extra time to be played in Tuesday’s semi final, Argentina will certainly not want to end all square after 90 minutes in Houston.