Argentina’s Giovani Lo Celso celebrates after scoring against Venezuela during their Copa America quarter-final match in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. Agence France-Presse
Argentina set up a mouth-watering Copa America semi-final against hosts Brazil as goals from Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso secured a 2-0 quarter-final victory over Venezuela on Friday.
Champions Chile maintained their hopes of a third straight victory after beating Colombia on penalties on Friday to reach the semi-finals.
Martinez gave Argentina a 10th minute lead with a clever back flick between his legs and substitute Lo Celso secured the victory 16 minutes from time, pouncing on a mistake by Venezuela’s goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.
It was another improved performance from Lionel Scaloni’s team who have grown into this tournament since beginning with a 2-0 defeat to Colombia and a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.
They are bidding to end a 26-year wait for a major international trophy.
“We’re Argentina and when there are knock-out matches, it makes us strong,” said Sergio Aguero, who had a hand in both goals.
“It won’t be easy in any way (against Brazil) but we’re Argentina and we’ll try to do justice to the jersey.”
Argentina started like a team determined to claim the prize at stake: a semi-final against their great rivals Brazil.
Martinez played in Aguero in the inside right channel after just three minutes but the Manchester City forward’s low cross-shot was blocked by goalkeeper Farinez’s foot.
Argentina should have gone in front when German Pezzella ran unmarked onto a flick-on at the back post but he seemed surprised and couldn’t react in time with the goal gaping.
There was constant pressure on the Venezuelan backline as Argentina won a succession of corners.
They had 80 per cent of possession in the first 10 minutes and sure enough, Venezuela cracked.
Aguero’s angled shot was heading well off target as it skidded into a crowd of players, but Martinez instinctively flicked it between his legs, nutmegging an unsighted Farinez.
It was the least Argentina deserved after such a furious start but gradually Venezuela started to settle and get a foothold in the match.
Chances were few and far between but Pezzella got up well to meet a Lionel Messi free-kick, only to head well over the top.
Defenders were proving the most dangerous players on the pitch and Jhon Chancellor rose highest to head over from a corner at the other end.
In first half injury time, Martinez almost had a second put on a plate for him by Marcus Acuna, but Roberto Rosales whisked it off his toe at the back post, four yards from goal as Argentina finished the half with another burst of attacking intent.
Meanwhile, Chile could have won the game in normal time but had two goals ruled out for marginal decisions in a scoreless draw, before Alexis Sanchez stroked home the winning spot-kick.
It was just rewards for the champions after dominating a match in which Colombia held on thanks to a couple of tight VAR calls.
Charles Aranguiz had a goal ruled out in the first half for a marginal offside against Sanchez in the build up to the move. And After Arturo Vidal shot low into the far corner on 70 minutes, that was chalked off for a handball against Guillermo Maripan, who had teed up the Barcelona midfielder.
After eight successful penalties, William Tesillo casually put his effort wide for Colombia, leaving Sanchez to be the hero, as the Manchester United forward continues to make up for a dreadful club season. The first half was dominated by Chile’s 16th minute goal being controversially disallowed.
Jean Beausejour made a surging, overlapping run down the left and his inviting cross was spilled by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina after Davinson Sanchez got in his way, allowing Aranguiz to nip in and slot home from a tight angle.