RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Argentina set up a mouth-watering Copa America semifinal against host Brazil as goals from Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso secured a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Venezuela on Friday.
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 has 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.
Argentina started like a team determined to claim the prize at stake: a semi-final against their great rival 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.
In Sao Paulo, Chile maintained its hopes of a third straight Copa America victory after beating Colombia on penalties on Friday to reach the semifinals.
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.
But much to the bemusement of many watching, the referee consulted VAR and the goal was chalked off for the most marginal of offsides.
Until then, Colombia had been the better side. On five minutes, a Radamel Falcao cushioned header found Roger Martinez but the forward wanted an extra touch and his goal-bound volley was charged down.