Argentina rout Paraguay to reach Copa America final

Concepcion, July 1 (IANS) Angel Di Maria struck two second-half goals as Argentina earned a berth in the Copa America final by trouncing Paraguay 6-1 here, media reported on Wednesday.

Marcos Rojo and Javier Pastore gave Argentina a 2-0 lead before Lucas Barrios reduced the margin on the stroke of halftime, Xinhua news agency reported.

Di Maria netted twice in six minutes after the restart and the Albiceleste completed the rout via Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The result means Gerardo Martino’s team will meet hosts Chile in Saturday’s final at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago.

Argentina will be aiming for their first major trophy since 1993, when they won the Copa America for a 14th time. Victory against Chile would draw them level with Uruguay as the most successful team in the tournament’s 99-year history.

Chile, playing in their first final since 1987, have never won the Copa America.

Tuesday’s clash started on an even footing with few clear-cut chances in the opening minutes.

Argentina went ahead on the quarter-hour when Lionel Messi floated a free-kick into the box and Rojo slipped behind the Paraguay defence before poking into the net.

Pastore should have doubled the Albiceleste’s lead shortly after but he directed a feeble attempt straight at goalkeeper Justo Villar.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder made amends by timing his run to perfection to meet Messi’s through ball and drill an unstoppable shot past Villar.

Paraguay were forced to make two changes in the space of three minutes due to injuries; Raul Bobadilla replaced Derlis Gonzales and then Lucas Barrios came on for Roque Santa Cruz.

The alterations gave Ramon Diaz’s team an immediate spark.

Nicolas Otamendi’s high ball out of defence put Pastore under pressure and Bruno Valdes leapt highest to head to the top of the box. Unmarked, Barrios collected the loose ball before rifling a shot past goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Then on the stroke of halftime Bobadilla fired over the crossbar after some fancy footwork in the box.

Pastore and Di Maria continued to menace Paraguay’s defence early in the second half. The pair showed uncanny understanding when Pastore’s delicate layoff allowed Di Maria to hit a first-time finish past Villar.

Oozing confidence, the Albiceleste increased their lead after some more clever work from Messi.

The Barcelona forward beat three opponents and then unselfishly found Pastore, who had a poor first touch before stubbing a shot straight at Villar. The ball rebounded fortuitously for Di Maria who fired in his second goal.

Messi was involved in just about every attacking move but, as has been the case for most of the tournament, his brilliance did not translate into goals.

He again combined impressively with Pastore just after the hour and was only denied by a superb Villar save.

The hitherto discreet Aguero then joined in on the act by heading in a Di Maria cross before Higuain, who came off the bench to replace the Manchester City man immediately after his goal, lashed past Villar after Messi was dispossessed in the box.

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