Sports

Messi sparkles as Argentina thrash Paraguay

Chile, July 1 : Lionel Messi produced a scintillating individual performance as Argentina destroyed Paraguay 6-1 to reach the final of the Copa America.

The Barcelona superstar tormented Paraguay mercilessly yesterday as the favorites produced their best display of the tournament and advanced to a showdown with Chile in Saturday's final.

Although Messi failed to end his run of more than 900 minutes without an international goal from open play, he turned creator as Argentina tore Paraguay apart.

Goals from Angel Di Maria (2), Marcos Rojo, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain completed an emphatic rout for the South American giants.

Manchester United defender Rojo and Paris Saint-Germain's Pastore had given Argentina a 2-0 lead midway through the first half before Paraguay pulled one back through Lucas Barrios.

But any Paraguayan hopes of repeating their heroics in the group phase -- when they came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 -- were snuffed out by two goals in six minutes from Di Maria early in the second half.

The carnage was completed with a headed goal from Manchester City striker Aguero in the 80th minute before substitute Higuain made it 6-1 just after coming on.

Argentina's opener came from a setpiece after 15 minutes.

Messi flighted a teasing free-kick into the area and when the ball dropped to Rojo, the defender reacted quickest and drilled in a low shot.

The Argentinians should have doubled their lead six minutes later when Messi sprinted clear of the Paraguayan cover and released Pastore down the left.

But with the goal begging, Pastore took took too long to get a shot away and Victor Caceres was able to slide in to make a desperate last-ditch block.

Yet Pastore did not have to wait long to make amends, seizing his chance when presented with another gilt-edged opportunity by Messi six minutes later.

Slick approach play saw the ball end with Messi, who deftly carved open the Paraguayan defence to play in Pastore.

The midfielder controlled on the run with a sublime first touch before bludgeoning a low shot past Justo Villar.

A disastrous start for Paraguay was compounded when veteran striker Roque Santa Cruz limped out of the contest, to be replaced by Barrios.

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