Argentina crushed the 2011 runners up Paraguay 6-1 to progress to the final of the 2015 Copa América where they will meet tournament hosts Chile.
Marcos Rojo and Javier Pastore put the 14-time winners in control but substitute Lucas Barrios clawed a goal back two minutes before the break. Following the interval it took less than 60 seconds for Argentina to regain their two-goal advantage as Ángel Di María finished a flowing move.
The Manchester United winger added a fourth six minutes later to end the game as a contest. As Paraguay continued to tire, Tata Martino’s side were merciless in front of goal with Sergio Agüero netting a fifth before late sub Gonzalo Higuaín battered in their sixth of the evening.
There was to be no repeat of the 2-2 group stage draw 18 days previous. Argentina have finally showcased their true attacking potential and are peaking at just the right time, producing their most complete display of this year’s tournament to sail into the final on a high.
La Abiceleste admittedly did look shaky for the minutes between conceding and the half time whistle but following the break they were a team reinvigorated.
Paraguay were forced to play over an hour without their skipper Roque Santa Cruz, who suffered a hamstring injury, or his apprentice, 21-year-old Derlis González, who scored the equaliser and winning penalty in his side’s triumph over Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Ramón Díaz understandably was eager to begin the second period on the front foot but the team, ranked 85th in the world, lacked positional discipline and were twice caught short in defence – and twice punished – in the early moments of the second half.
Rojo opened the scoring after quarter of an hour as Lionel Messi, who again was not amongst the scorers, swung in a freekick that fell to the feet of the Manchester full-back for him to poke into the far corner.
With less than half an hour on the clock, Argentina were two ahead, as Messi supplied Pastore to strike low past the goalkeeper from the edge of the box. The PSG midfielder had missed a guilt-edge chance moments earlier but this strike made up for it.
Despite the deficit – and enforced substitutions – La Albirroja fortuitously halved their task on the stroke of half time. Nicolás Otamendi’s hoofed ball forward was intercepted on halfway and passed forward to Santa Cruz’s replacement Barrios. The Palmeiras striker made no mistake from just inside the area as he crashed a drive past the outstretched palm of Sergio Romero to spark jubilant scenes. The Paraguayans believed a repeat comeback performance was on the cards.
However, head coach Martino wasn’t going to let that happen and with less than 10 minutes gone in the second period it was 4-1, after a quick-fire brace from Di María. The first was a well-taken shot across the goalkeeper to finish off a passing move and he doubled his tally soon after.
Selección skipper Messi snatched the ball on half-way, outmuscled one defender and then simultaneously nutmegged Bruno Valdez, forcing the Paraguay midfielder to slide-tackle his teammate Aguilar. It was a phenomenal dribble and moment as Messi delicately fed Pastore, whose dinked effort was parried by Villar to the feet of Di María to slot into the unguarded net.
Paraguay realised the game was up following their opponents fourth and carried little sharpness in attack following the loss of their towering legendary centre forward and his energetic fledgling.
With 15 minutes to play, Di María turned supplier and picked out Agüero perfectly inside the area with a darting header after some alert movement. Justo Villar was having a birthday to forget between the sticks and was beginning to get back ache as he continued to pick the ball out of his own net.
Agüero, who would’ve missed the final had he picked up another booking, was immediately taken off following his goal and replaced by Higuaín. Moments later, Ivan Piris got himself in a muddle in the corner and was disposed. The ball bounced around the penalty spot before the grounded Messi poked a toe out to release the Napoli forward who rifling a sixth past the Colo Colo number one. An unforgiving display from the pre-tournament favourites.
Paraguay have pulled off some stunning comebacks during the tournament but their dogged determination couldn’t help them recover this one. Today proved to be a step too far for the 2011 beaten finalists.
Argentina now head into Saturday’s final in Santiago desperate to pick up their 15th continental trophy and go level at the top with Uruguay as the most successful team in the competition. They last lifted the title back in 1993 when Gabriel Batistuta inspired his nation with a second half brace over Mexico in the final.