Messi leads Argentina to showdown with Chile
LIONEL Messi produced a scintillating individual performance as Argentina destroyed Paraguay 6-1 to reach the final of the Copa America on Tuesday.
The Barcelona superstar tormented Paraguay mercilessly, as the favourites produced their best display of the tournament and advanced to a showdown with Chile in Saturday's final.
Although Messi failed to end his run of more than 900 minutes without an international goal from open play, he turned creator as Argentina tore Paraguay apart.
Goals from Angel di Maria (two), Marcos Rojo, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain completed an emphatic rout for the South American giants.
Messi was delighted that Argentina's potent collection of attacking talent finally clicked.
"We've been playing well - we knew once we scored one goal, many more would come, and that's what happened," he said as he collected his man-of-the-match award.
"We got an early goal and then found more space, and then we got the second. We continued to play the same way and more goals came."
Argentina, who finished runners-up in last year's World Cup, are determined to clinch their first major title in 22 years.
"The important thing is that we've achieved our first objective by reaching the final. Now we need to win it," Messi said.
Manchester United defender Rojo and Paris Saint-Germain's Pastore gave Argentina a 2-0 lead midway through the first half, before Paraguay pulled one back through Lucas Barrios.
But any Paraguayan hopes of repeating their heroics in the group phase - when they came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 - were snuffed out by two goals in six minutes from di Maria early in the second half.
The carnage was completed with a headed goal from Manchester City striker Aguero in the 80th minute, before substitute Higuain made it 6-1 just after coming on.
Coach Gerardo Martino was happy with the result, but felt Argentina could have played much better.
"Our play was much better than in the match against Colombia," he said, referring to the tense quarter-final clash that was settled in a penalty shoot-out. "But in terms of winning back the ball, anywhere on the pitch, I think we were better in the game against Colombia than in today's game.
"We didn't press well, either when we were in their half of the pitch or when we were forced backwards.
"I'm happy about the 6-1 scoreline and playing in the final, but if there's something that needs correcting, I'll correct it, whether we draw 0-0, lose or win."
Argentina have played well throughout the tournament but, until Tuesday, had scored only four goals in as many matches as they struggled to kill off their opponents.
Their victory was the biggest in a Copa America semi-final since 1997, when Brazil hammered Peru 7-0, and was Argentina's biggest win over Paraguay in the tournament since 1947, when they beat them 6-0 in Ecuador.
They have played against Paraguay 24 times in the 99-year history of the tournament and have never lost. Likewise, the two finalists have played against each other 24 times in the Copa America and Argentina have yet to lose.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS