Saturday, June 18, 2016

Copa America Centenario Day 15: Argentina, Chile dominate their way into semis

Argentina 4-1 Venezuela
Argentina have looked like the best team in this tournament throughout the group stage. With Lionel Messi back, fully fit, and making his first start of the tournament, it seemed like Venezuela would be a small bump in the road on their way to a semi-final date with the USA on Tuesday.

The first half proved just why they are heavy favorites. They picked up a quick goal through Gonzalo Higuain in the eighth minute thanks to a long feed from Messi. Speaking of Messi, he was taken down in the penalty area in the 22nd minute in what could have been a penalty. No whistle went, but Messi, who is coming off a back problem, was slow to get off the turf. Higuain picked up his double in the 28th minute by taking advantage of Venezuela pushing higher up the pitch. A silly back pass allowed the Napoli forward to surge ahead unabated to the goal.

Venezuela could not be completely counted out. The underdogs did come up with a couple chances towards the end of the half. After the 40th minute, the sent a couple of dangerous shots sailing just off target. In the end, they had to deal with a two goal halftime deficit against probably the best team in Copa America.

Argentina's class continued to be on display in the second half. Despite sitting back and allowing Venezuela to try and penetrate their shell, they still were able to find a third goal at the hour mark. A counter attack ended in Nicolas Gaitan picking out Lionel Messi on a run past the defensive line where he was able to easily slide a shot past Dani Hernandez.

La Vinotinto got on the board at the 70 minute mark with a header from Salomon Rondon, but that was nothing more than false hope. Messi picked out Erik Lamela less than a minute after the restart for Argentina's fourth goal. Nothing else needed to be done. A fully armed and operational Argentina team had stormed into the semi-finals, where they will face the USA. A logical person will have zero expectation of an American advance.

Mexico 0-7 Chile
El Tri cruised through the group stage with nine points and were rewarded with a match against the defending Copa America champions.

Despite Mexico's crowd advantage, they ended up going down early on. Chile jumped all over them and scored in the 16th minute through Edson Puch. He was in the right place at the right time to collect and hammer home a rebound of a long shot. They thought they had a second goal in the 37th minute off some nice passing on a counter, but the final ball before the smashing shot into the net was offside. They did get their second goal in the 44th. Lazy Mexico defending allowed Alexis Sanchez to get free near the touchline to pick out Eduardo Vargas for the finish.

Mexico had certainly dug themselves quite the hole with their first half performance. They were pretty much non-existent in that opening 45 minutes. They only took two shots, both off target, while getting themselves bossed around by Chile's superior talent all over the pitch.

The hole would only get deeper in the second half and as the Chile goal total grew, so did Mexican apathy. Alexis Sanchez cut through the Mexican defense for a 49th minute goal that would put this one to bed. As if they needed more, Vargas added his second of the night on a 52nd minute breakaway. The hat trick came off a rebound in the 57th. His fourth came on a tight angle shot after a strange deflection in the 74th. Puch chipped home his second of the match in the 87th. Even though they gave up seven, it could have been much worse for Mexico.

Mexico will certainly be disappointed in how this tournament ended. They came in as one of the favorites to win. They completed a successful group stage that included a win over fellow hemispherical power Uruguay, which only enhanced that belief that they could win the whole thing. the tough round of 16 draw aside, they should have played much, much better here. It will feel like a missed opportunity for them.

Chile, meanwhile, will move on to take on Colombia in the second semi-final on Wednesday night in Chicago. This emphatic beatdown will give them plenty of confidence heading into that big match.

Full Copa America Centenario Semi-Final Schedule
USA v. Argentina- Tuesday, 8pm in Houston
Colombia v. Chile- Wednesday, 8pm in Chicago

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