Argentina beat Colombia 3-2 on penalties after their Copa America 2021 semi-final ended 1-1 in regular time to book their place in the summit clash. They will now take on reigning champions Brazil for continental glory.
Lionel Messi bagged his fifth assist of the tournament as he helped set up Lautaro Martinez's seventh-minute opener. But the hero of the game was goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who saved three penalties in the shootout.
Colombia had been the better side for the most part but they were simply ineffective in front of goal. They equalized, however, in the 61st minute via Luis Diaz and then survived waves of Argentine pressure before full-time. But the nerves eventually got to them in the penalties and they could not repeat their performance from the shootout against Uruguay.
Messi and Lautaro Martinez combined for the second game in a row and ensured an early lead for Argentina. Messi was played through by a great ball from Giovanni Lo Celso and the Barcelona man held off a couple of Colombian defenders before picking a pass for Lautaro Martinez. The Inter Milan forward made no mistake and swept the ball in to find the back of the net from inside the box.
Colombia hit the woodwork twice in the first half and grew into the game after an early setback. VAR arrived to rescue Argentina in the 53rd minute when a video check confirmed that the ball had struck Guido Rodriguez's chest and not his hand during a Colombian attack in the box. The relief was short-lived, though, as Colombia pulled one back through Diaz, who was the dangerman for his side throughout the game.
Diaz's run was spotted by Edwin Cardona and the forward kept a cool head under pressure from the Argentina defense to lob the ball over Emiliano Martinez from close range.
Argentina would get a golden opportunity well into the second half. In the 72nd minute, David Ospina committed himself and came out of the box to defend against Angel di Maria after a stray pass from his defense. Di Maria left the keeper on the ground with his quick feet and released Martinez into the box. But the striker failed to add to his tally with a poor finish, which was cleared off the line with ease.
Messi hit the post in the 80th minute and was also awarded a free kick late in the game, which struck the wall. As the two teams could not be separated after injury time, the game went to penalties.
Lionel Messi, Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez scored for Argentina, while Rodrigo de Paul skied his penalty. But the miss didn't count for much as Emiliano Martinez's saves from Yerry Mina, Davinson Sanchez and Edwin Cardona meant Argentina won 3-2 in the shootout and put their old blues from the spot behind them.
As the stage is set for the clash between the two South American heavyweights, Argentina and Brazil at the Maracana on Saturday (July 10), here we take a look at the five talking points from this thrilling encounter.
#5 Argentina take an early lead yet again
Argentina have made a habit of scoring early goals in recent games and have scored the opener in their last nine games. In their Copa America 2021 fixtures, they have opened the scoring in the first 15 minutes of the game on four out of six occasions.
Martinez's goal was the second occasion in the tournament when Argentina took the lead within the first 10 minutes of the game. They also scored via Alejandro Gomez in the sixth minute against Bolivia in their final group stage fixture. Messi was the creator of both goals.
This early lead helped Argentina set the tone for a very physical game from there on. Colombia created the better share of chances after this in the first half though, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing a good save from Emiliano Martinez.
#4 Luis Diaz shows off his finishing skills against another big team
Luis Diaz scored the equalizing goal for Colombia in the 61st minute and it was another piece of brilliance from the 24-year-old striker. He was Colombia's greatest threat throughout the game and ensured that their dominance in the game was reflected on the scoresheet with a fine finish.
This was the Porto man's second goal of the tournament and was even more important than the first one. He scored a wonderful acrobatic goal in the important group stage clash against Brazil, though the reigning champions came back from behind to win the game.
He has now scored against Argentina and troubled them throughout the night. Diaz has slowly emerged as a big-game player for Los Cafeteros.
#3 The game delivered on the physical front, with fouls all over the pitch
In a high-stakes game like this one, where Argentina and Colombia were both looking for a spot in the final, tensions were sure to flare up. Additionally, when the Colombians walk on to the pitch, we can always expect the game to be a physical one.
The Colombians have approached all of their games in Copa America with a very simple tactic: physicality and breaking up plays by whatever means possible. They were absolutely brutal in the game against Uruguay in the quarter-finals, committing 17 fouls. In this game as well, they ensured Argentina did not get into dangerous positions with a series of tactical fouls and it was a surprise that only a couple of players were booked in the first half.
Overall, 47 fouls were committed in the game, the most in the competition so far. Surprisingly, it was only in the second half that officials felt the need to start handing out yellow cards.
With Argentina setting up a date with Brazil in the final, we do not expect a similar physical game. The tie could very well be decided by the battle between former Barcelona team-mates Neymar and Messi.
#2 Lionel Messi dazzles with another brilliant outing for Argentina
Lionel Messi has been the out-and-out talisman for Argentina in the Copa America 2021 so far. He already has four goals and added his fifth assist of the tournament with a great pass to Lautaro Martinez for the opening goal of the game.
With that pass, Messi broke the record for most assists in a single edition of the tournament. Otherwise as well, he was excellent on the pitch with his touches, ball control and distribution. Messi even hit the post in the 80th minute.
With him in great form, La Albiceleste have yet another shot at the Copa America trophy and are in their first final since 2016. They will hope Messi can carry them across the line to a coveted international trophy.
#1 Emiliano Martinez the hero for Argentina as he saves three penalties
Though Messi helped give Argentina an early lead with an assist, it was their goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who bagged all the honors in the end. He rose to the occasion and saved three penalties with his smart reflexes and effective trash talk in the shootout. The Aston Villa goalkeeper also made a couple of good saves in regular time, including one from Cuadrado in the eighth minute.
The game went straight to penalties because as per the rules, extra time will only be allowed in the final of the Copa America. In what was supposed to be a nervy affair for him in the shootout, Martinez resorted to classic mind game tactics and, thanks to an empty stadium, got into the heads of the Colombian players.
He saved penalties from Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona, while his teammates scored three penalties at the other end to put the game to bed. It was a welcome sight to once again see someone other than Messi producing a match-winning performance for Argentina. This has been the case on numerous occasions in the Copa America 2021 and the Albiceleste will hope it continues in the final as well.