Argentina eased past Ecuador in the Copa America 2021 quarter-final fixture, as goals from Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul helped them to an impressive 3-0 win. Messi picked up the assists for the first two goals before finally finding the back of the net himself in injury time.
Messi hit the inside of the post in the 22nd minute after a wayward backpass fell kindly for him. Just moments later Ecuador had a go at goal but Emiliano Martinez made a fine save from Jhegson Mendez's volley.
Chances kept coming for Argentina and they finally made one count in the 40th minute. After Hernán Galíndez came off his line and tackled Nico Gonzalez, the free ball was picked up by Messi. He crossed it into the box for De Paul - leaving him with an easy tap-in to take the lead on the night.
After conceding the opener, Galindez produced a remarkable double save from a set piece. Enner Valencia wasted a golden opportunity to equalize in injury time but he completely mistimed his header. Argentina headed into the second half with the lead but Lionel Scaloni made a couple of changes, bringing in Angel Di Maria and Guido Rodriguez.
The second half saw a lot of unnecessary challenges which disrupted the flow of the game, though quite a few chances were gifted to both teams. It wasn't until the 84th minute that Argentina had their second goal, courtesy of a defensive error from Ecuador. Messi picked up his second assist of the game as he helped Martinez score a simple goal.
in the 88th minute substitute, Di Maria drew a foul just outside the box for which Pierro Hincapie was sent off after a video check. A free-kick was awarded right on the edge of the box and Messi curled in the third goal of the game.
Argentina looked very confident against Ecuador and have now booked a date against Colombia for the semifinals. As Messi's brilliance takes Argentina into the last four, here we take a look at the five talking points from the game.
#5 Argentina score in the first half to take the lead yet again
Argentina has made a habit of scoring early goals in the Copa America this year.Although they were made to wait 40 minutes for their opener, they found themselves leading in a competitive fixture yet again inside the first 45 minutes.
De Paul's goal marked the 11th consecutive game in which La Albiceleste had scored before the half-time whistle. They had less possession than Ecuador but managed to record eight shots on target.
Their tendency to score early could be a crucial factor in the semifinals against Colombia. In any high-pressure game, scoring first gives a huge psychological advantage.
#4 A third clean sheet for Argentina at Copa America
Argentina have been shaky at times in the ongoing competition but they have managed to put in great performances defensively. They have conceded just two goals in five outings.
In terms of defensive records, they are currently matched with Brazil, who also have three clean sheets and conceded two goals so far.
Emiliano Martinez made a couple of smart saves tonight and ensured that Argentina's exploits in front of goal weren't undone by a nervy defense.
#3 Messi overtakes Cristiano Ronaldo for direct free-kick goals with club and country
It was another great outing with Argentina for the Barcelona man as Lionel Messi ran the show against Ecuador. He was made to wait until injury time for his goal and it finally came from a direct free-kick, his second in the tournament.
The set-piece was right on the edge of the box and as we know, there are very few players better than the left-footed maestro in dead-ball situations at the moment.
This effort took his tally to 58 goals from direct free-kicks with club and country, one more than his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
#2 Argentina remain unbeaten under Lionel Scaloni
Argentina extended their impressive unbeaten run under manager Lionel Scaloni to 18 games with this commanding win and he is now tied with Marcelo Bielsa for second place in the all-time list.
While Scaloni's tactics seem to be working, more often than not they have been saved by one man and that is their talismanic captain Lionel Messi. Against Ecuador, the former Barcelona man set up the first two goals and also scored the third, to ensure a comfortable win.
Their last defeat across all competitions came in the semifinals of the Copa America 2019 and they will be hoping to avoid the same outcome this time around when they take on Colombia on Tuesday night.
#1 Lionel Messi is all Argentina need to go all the way in Copa America
Lionel Messi has been in incredible form at the Copa America and, with four goals and four assists, has been responsible for 80% of goals scored by Argentina at the competition so far.
He found some support from Lautaro Martinez and Alejandro Gomez in the final third but had to do most of the heavy lifting for his side. He has scored goals from two direct free-kicks, while no other player has been able to find the back of the net from a set-piece even once.
He is also just one goal behind Pele in terms of international goals and given the kind of purple patch he is in at the moment, we expect him to overtake him in the next fixture.