Argentina finally found its groove, and in spectacular fashion, thumping Paraguay 6-1 in the Copa America semifinals on Tuesday night in Concepcion, Chile.
Last year’s World Cup runners-up had failed to make the most of its array of attacking talent in scoring just four goals in as many games on their way through to the last four. But against a Paraguay team that had come back to draw 2-2 with Argentina in the group stage, they ran riot to book a place in Saturday’s final against Chile, thanks to two goals from Angel di Maria and further efforts from Marcos Rojo, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.
It is undoubtedly the final that most neutrals will have wanted, with the hosts, seeking a first-ever international title, taking on the team that on paper is the current best in South America. And Argentina have their own drought to end at this tournament, having failed to win a trophy since lifting the Copa America in 1993.
That drought has persisted, despite producing some of the world’s most talented players. But on Tuesday, Argentina showed the potential of its current star-studded lineup. Di Maria put a poor season behind him to have a big influence. And the Manchester United attacker helped set his team on the way to victory when his fine free-kick delivery 15 minutes in failed to be dealt with by Paraguay and his club mate Rojo fired the ball home.
While not getting on the score sheet, Lionel Messi was at the heart of almost everything Argentina did offensively. It was the Barcelona man’s brilliant through pass that perfectly found the stride of Pastore to strike low, hard and early across goal and into the net to double Argentina’s lead in the 27th minute.
Argentina were in control, but a lapse right before halftime brought back memories of Paraguay’s comeback from 2-0 down in the group phase. Three minutes before the interval, experienced striker Lucas Barrios ruthlessly capitalized on some Argentinean sloppiness to fire the ball past Sergio Romero and give Paraguay hope.
But the 2011 Copa America’s runners-up had no answer as Argentina scored twice in the first eight minutes of the second half to effectively decide the semifinal. Both came from the boot of Di Maria, the first with a clinical finish from Pastore’s pass and the second after Pastore had seen his shot blocked following more brilliant creative work from Messi.
Argentina then added an emphatic sheen to the result in the final seven minutes with two more goals. Di Maria played creator with a fine cross to allow Aguero to head home from close range and then two minutes later Higuain lashed home after Messi helped the ball through. The final will see the two best teams in the competition collide, but on this showing Argentina will take some stopping.