The United States were supposed to provide the sternest test of Gerardo Martino’s Argentina side who had so far met little resistance en route to the semi finals but in Houston on Tuesday night, the hosts were ruthlessly put to the sword by Lionel Messi and his teammates in a one-sided demolition.
The 4-0 scoreline flattered Jürgen Klinsmann’s side and goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lionel Messi and two from Gonzalo Higuaín put La Albiceleste in Sunday’s final, where they will meet either Colombia or Chile.
Presumably the game plan for the US would have been to keep things tight and at least try and expose the perceived weak Argentine defence but within three minutes any of these schemes were dashed.
Ezequiel Lavezzi had come into the side in the absence of Nicolás Gaitán to the surprise of many but immediately repaid Gerardo Martino’s faith in him when he ghosted in behind the static US defence to get on the end of Messi’s delightful chipped ball over the top and send a looping header past Brad Guzan.
The hosts offered nothing in reply and a second Argentina goal always looked likely but when it did eventually arrive it was breathtaking.
Messi’s ever-diminishing critics still try and claim that he doesn’t perform in an Argentine shirt but the undoubted main attraction lived up to his billing with a free kick over the highest calibre to double the lead. Brad Guzan was left clutching at thin air after the world’s best player struck a powerful, curling, inch-perfect strike into the top corner to not only virtually end the semi final as a contest but break Gabriel Batistuta’s goal scoring record.
The more relevant question at the break appeared to be what would the margin of victory be having watched Chile smash seven past México in the quarter finals and things looked bleak for the US when it took just four minutes of the second half for Argentina to grab number three.
Lavezzi turned provider with a superb ball to find the run of Gonzalo Higuaín and although Guzan stopped his first effort, the Napoli striker had time to score the rebound.
What was now an exhibition match saw Éver Banega as conductor leading an orchestra of controlled possession football, with the US left chasing shadows.
Higuaín added a fourth late on when he rolled in Lionel Messi’s unselfish cut back but there was a downside during the second in the injuries to Lavezzi, Augusto Fernández and Marcos Rojo.
Lavezzi crashed over the advertising boards fracturing his elbow, frustratingly during his best performance in an Argentina shirt in a long time, Fernández suffered a hamstring injury and Rojo a thigh strain.
Lavezzi is certainly out of Sunday’s final, as presumably is Fernández and Rojo is a major doubt which takes the shine of what was another impressive display from La Albiceleste.
Messi has perhaps never looked so dominant for Argentina but a third final in as many years stands between him and a first international trophy.