Lionel Messi scored twice and provided an assist as Argentina secured top spot in their Copa America group with a 4-1 rout of Bolivia here on Monday.
Alejandro Gomez was also on target for the second successive match before Erwin Saavedra pulled a goal back for La Verde early in the second half. Lautaro Martinez put the result beyond doubt by coming off the bench to score his first goal of the tournament.
The result extended the Albiceleste’s unbeaten run to 17 matches and they will now turn their attention to next Saturday’s quarterfinal clash against Ecuador in Goiania. Bolivia exit the tournament having lost each for their four group matches.
“We have been growing as the tournament has progressed,” Martinez said after the match. “We know our next opponents very well. It’s going to be a tough match but we’re going to prepare as well as we possibly can to give the best account of ourselves.”
Argentina took the initiative from the outset in unusually cold weather in Cuiaba, a city in Brazil’s tropical Pantanal wetland region.
Gomez struck in the sixth minute with a left-footed volley after Messi turned nimbly and lifted a perfectly weighted pass into the Sevilla forward’s path.
Messi then converted from the penalty spot after the lively Gomez was brought down by Leonel Justiniano.
Argentina’s captain doubled his personal tally on the stroke of halftime by running onto Sergio Aguero’s lofted pass and deftly chipping his shot over goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
Bolivia reduced the deficit on the hour mark when Saavedra drilled a first-time finish past Franco Armani following Justiniano’s cross from the right flank.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni replaced Aguero with Martinez and the Inter Milan forward scored with his first touch, thumping home a close-range effort after Gonzalo Montiel’s initial shot took a deflection.
The Albiceleste continued to attack and Bolivia had Lampe to thank for not going further behind. The veteran goalkeeper showed lightning reflexes to twice deny Martinez before also keeping out Messi’s low attempt from a set piece.
In Monday’s only other Copa America fixture, Uruguay beat Paraguay 1-0 courtesy of a first-half penalty from Edinson Cavani. The result means the Celeste will meet Colombia in Brasilia on Saturday as both teams vie for a place in the competition’s last four.
Peru will face Paraguay in Goiania and Brazil will take on Chile in Rio de Janeiro in the other quarterfinals on Friday.