An understandable sense of caution hung in the air ahead of Argentina’s quarter-final with Venezuela after an unimpressive qualification from the group stage but La Albiceleste produced their best performance so far to see off the challenge of La Vinotinto and set up a mouthwatering semi-final against hosts Brazil.
Argentina’s best perhaps says more about the three games prior than it does about victory over Venezuela and yet Lionel Scaloni will have been pleased by his side answering a number of questions.
The Lautaro Martínez-Sergio Agüero strike force once more proved fruitful with the Inter youngster expertly flicking in the Manchester City star’s volley to give Argentina an early lead, Leandro Paredes pulled the strings from deep ably supported by the energetic Rodrigo De Paul and Marcos Acuña in midfield, while Juan Foyth survived the test of his defensive credentials at right-back.
In fact other than Franco Armani saving well to deny Ronald Hernández from close range during the second half, Argentina managed to limit the dangerous Venezuelan attack to virtually nothing.
Martínez back-heeling Agüero’s crossgoal strike through a crowded six-yard box gave Argentina a deserved lead after ten minutes and while Lionel Messi was having a frustratingly quiet afternoon it was the incessant 21-year-old who set the tone for Scaloni’s side in attack.
Martínez came within a whisker of doubling the lead straight after half time latching on to a wonderful through-pass from Leandro Paredes to clatter the woodwork before Venezuela really began to apply some pressure.
The substitutions of Martínez and Acuña appeared to be playing into the hands of Rafael Dudamel’s side as they began to dominate possession but it was Giovani Lo Celso, one of those introduced, who sealed the win. That was down to an error by Wuilker Fariñez as much as anything but the Betis playmaker was alert to the talented goalkeeper spilling Agüero’s low drive to tap in the decisive second.
Venezuela pushed forward without ever really threatening and aside from a couple of penalty claims with Foyth at times on a tightrope with his challenges, Argentina were able to weather anything thrown at them with relative ease.
Victory marked an improvement from Argentina but up against Brazil another significant step-up will be required. Lionel Scaloni has never repeated a starting eleven and on Tuesday evening the Argentina coach may feel compelled to end that run. More will be needed from Messi, the midfield will face a far greater challenge and Foyth will be tested to the maximum by Everton but it promises to be another terrific, high-stakes clásico.