Football’s arguably most-loved personality Lionel Messi scored another mesmerizing free kick, besides also serving up two delectable assists as Argentina beat Ecuador 3-0 on Saturday to set themselves up for a Copa América semi-final against Colombia.
MOTM Messi squandered a golden opportunity in the first half but amply made up for it five minutes before half-time by setting up Rodrigo De Paul and then did the same for Lautaro Martinez five minutes from the end to set Argentina ablaze enroute to a well-deserved victory.
The Barcelona player then got his second howler of a free-kick of the tournament in stoppage time to round out a convincing scoreline.
This was his 76th goal for Argentina, taking him to within one short of Pele’s Latin American record.
“I’ve always said that individual prizes are secondary, we’re here for something else,” Messi said. “We have an objective and we’re focused on that.
“It was a hard match, we know how difficult an opponent they can be. The important thing is we’ve taken another step forward.”
Argentina had been unbeaten in 17 games coming into the match and could have put the result beyond doubt much earlier with Martinez and German Pezzella both coming close in the opening 20 minutes. More surprisingly, Messi missed the best chance of the game when he was through one-on-one but saw his shot rebound off the post.
But Messi being Messi, the diminutive striker made up for it five minutes before half-time when – with the Ecuadoran goalkeeper stranded awkwardly in no man’s land after making a tackle outside the box – he fed De Paul, who stroked the ball into the net for his first international goal in 25 appearances.
Messi then geared up to set up Martinez to finish clinically five minutes from the end, before stepping up himself to curl home a breathtaking free kick in stoppage time, after Piero Hincapie hauled down Angel Di Maria and was flashed a red card.
With this resonding win, Argentina will next face Colombia, who overcame Uruguay on penalties earlier in the day, in the second Copa America semi-final on Tuesday. Brazil play Peru in the first semi 24 hours before.