Lionel Messi produced a masterclass with two goals and an assist as he made history in Argentina's 4-1 victory over Bolivia at the Copa America.

Messi became Argentina's all-time record appearances holder after surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano with his 148th international cap in Cuiaba on Monday.

On the field, Messi was in magical form as he scored twice to take his internationally tally to 75, while creating the opener in a devastating first-half display in Argentina's final Group A fixture.

Messi somehow scooped the ball to Alejandro Gomez, who finished on the volley in the sixth minute, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner stepped up to covert a 33rd-minute penalty and then beat Carlos Lampe with a superb lob nine minutes later.

Erwin Saavedra pulled a goal back for Bolivia in the 60th minute but Lautaro Martinez came off the bench and restored the three-goal advantage minutes later as Argentina sealed top spot to set up a quarter-final showdown against Ecuador.

Argentina were in control against a Bolivia team already eliminated, forcing a superb double-save from goalkeeper Lampe, who showed amazing agility to thwart Sergio Aguero and Angel Correa in the third minute.

Messi took centre stage as Argentina broke the deadlock – the superstar captain providing a highlight moment with a memorable assist as he had his back towards goal while teeing up in-form team-mate Gomez.

Bolivia's Diego Bejarano was penalised for a foul on Gomez inside the box after the half-hour mark and Messi made no mistake with the spot-kick.

After Franco Armani was called into action following a long-range effort from Jeyson Chura, Messi put Argentina 3-0 ahead courtesy of a perfectly chipped shot over Lampe prior to the interval, having been played through by Aguero.

Some complacency crept into Argentina's game in the second half and it was punished by Bolivia on the hour mark after Saavedra finished clinically into the roof of the net following Leonel Justiniano's driving run to the byline.

Martinez was only on the pitch for two minutes when he netted Argentina's fourth goal in the 65th minute and the merciless South American powerhouse should have had more, if not for the efforts of Lampe during the closing stages.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni voiced concerns about the physical condition of his players while highlighting the importance of Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Papu Gomez was the hero for Argentina, with his 10th-minute goal sealing a 1-0 win over Paraguay on Monday and a spot in the last eight of the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

There was no rest for superstar captain Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's record for most Argentina appearances with his 147th cap, despite Scaloni's men backing up from Friday's success against Uruguay.

Messi has not missed a minute of Argentina's three Group A games so far, amassing 74 touches against Paraguay while winning 75 per cent of a team-high 16 duels.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had the most shots (three) and shots on target (two) among his team-mates as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches, dating back to 2019.

"The reality is that Messi has been playing every game and it is very difficult not to count on him, even though he is tired he continues to make the difference," said Scaloni, who introduced the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero into the starting XI.

"Today we made several changes and despite that we were able to take all three points."

Without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina snapped a four-game winless drought against Paraguay in Brasilia.

Argentina ended the contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession.

"What worries me is the physical condition of the players because we came from playing three days ago and today the conditions were not the best, so we had to rotate players," Scaloni told reporters.

"The first half we played very well and in the second, due to the merit of Paraguay and their good physical condition, as a result of many days off, they had more control of the game. The team showed a good image in the first half, but there are always things to keep improving."

"The beauty of all this is the process," Lionel Scaloni said post-game.

Sixteen games unbeaten and through to the Copa America quarter-finals for the 14th consecutive CONMEBOL tournament.

Papu Gomez's delightful 10th-minute effort over onrushing Antony Silva extended Argentina's undefeated streak, while snapping a four-match winless drought against Paraguay on Monday.

Add seven clean sheets during an unbeaten run, dating back to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, and it sounds wonderful for La Albiceleste in pursuit of a first major title since 1993.

This is not your usual Argentina, despite boasting a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner – Lionel Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's appearance record with his 147th cap – hellbent on claiming an elusive international trophy.

Aside from Gomez's delicate finish, there was not much to write home about. After a promising opening half, Argentina faded. A growing theme under head coach Scaloni.

Argentina ended the Group A contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession. Fortunately for Scaloni's side, La Albirroja did not manage a shot on target.

At a time when Argentina was reeling following another early and unsuccessful World Cup campaign, ousted in the round of 16 at Russia 2018, Scaloni stepped into a hot seat so few were willing to take on.

The seven-time Argentina international provided stability when superstar captain Messi initially retired. Scaloni oversaw a run to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals – La Albiceleste settled for third.

Fast forward to this year and even amid a lengthy undefeated streak, there are growing questions over Scaloni, the style of football and Argentina's ability to put an end to 28 years of anguish.

While the football might not be so easy on the eye, it's the results that matter at the moment as Argentina build towards dethroning South American rivals Brazil on their own turf.

Argentina qualified for the Copa America quarter-finals after ending their drought against Paraguay with a 1-0 victory.

Not since the 2015 Copa had Argentina tasted a win over Paraguay – a run of four consecutive matches – but La Albiceleste snapped that winless streak thanks to Papu Gomez on Monday.

Gomez scored the winner in the 10th minute, scooping an effort over onrushing Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva, for his second goal from just his sixth international appearance.

As Lionel Messi equalled the record for most Argentina appearances, Lionel Scaloni's men extended their winning streak to 16 games in Brasilia.

Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero were named in the starting XI for the first time during this year's Copa, and the veteran Argentina pair were heavily involved early.

Aguero had a great chance to put Argentina ahead in the seventh minute after some woeful defending saw the ball fall to his feet inside the six-yard box, however, the Barcelona recruit's reactive effort went just over the crossbar.

Argentina did break the deadlock three minutes later via Gomez, who beat the offside trap and finished delicately over Silva after Di Maria cut a ball perfectly to the Sevilla star.

Paraguay ended the half with more possession – 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent – as Argentina dropped off after scoring the opening goal.

Argentina did find the back of the net for a second time on the stroke of half-time, wheeling away in celebration after Gomez's cross was inadvertently put into his own net by Paraguay defender Junior Alonso but it was ruled offside.

There was a promising spell of sustained pressure from Paraguay, who had not lost to Argentina in six years, to start the second half.

Paraguay continued to dictate proceedings without creating anything meaningful as Argentina booked their spot in the knockout phase in pursuit of a first major title since winning the 1993 Copa America.

 

What does it mean? Argentina roll on

Argentina are a tough team to beat at the moment. Not since the 2019 Copa America have La Albiceleste tasted defeat – a run of 16 consecutive matches without a loss. They have kept seven clean sheets during that run.

Messi milestone

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner celebrated another milestone on Monday, equalling Javier Mascherano for the most senior Argentina appearances – 147. Messi is already the country's all-time leading scorer (73).

Toothless Paraguay

Paraguay enjoyed more possession and a better passing accuracy, but it did not translate to anything meaningful up front. Eduardo Berizzo's side ended the contest without a shot on target.

What's next?

Argentina will conclude their Group A campaign against winless Bolivia in Cuiaba on Monday, while Paraguay meet Uruguay on the same day.

Alejandro Gomez's seven-year association with Atalanta is over after their former captain completed a move to Sevilla.

Gomez, 32, joined Atalanta from Metalist Kharkiv in 2014 and was a key factor in the club's rise from mid-table also-rans to regular top-four challengers.

He became captain in 2017 after a personal-best haul of 16 Serie A goals in 2016-17 and then skippered the club to their highest-ever top-flight finish of third in 2018-19.

They repeated the feat in 2019-20 and Gomez, whose 16 assists was the most by any player in a single Serie A season this century, was named the league's best midfielder in the end-of-season awards.

But Gomez and coach Gian Piero Gasperini reportedly fell out earlier this season, with Italian media claiming the player had refused to carry out the manager's orders in the 1-1 Champions League draw with Midtjylland.

Speculation was rife throughout December about whether the pair would be able to repair their relationship or if Gomez was on his way out, with Inter initially thought to be his likeliest of options.

But more recently Italian publications suggested Atalanta were keen to offload him to a foreign team, and Sevilla – whom Gomez had previously suggested were his favourite Spanish team – made their move.

The talented attacker, who can play on the left flank or behind the striker, signed a contract until June 2024 on Tuesday.

He is an Argentina team-mate of current Sevilla players Lucas Ocampos and Marcos Acuna, and was given his Albiceleste bow by the club's former coach Jorge Sampaoli.

Sevilla will hope Gomez can serve them as effectively he did Atalanta in the main – from the start of 2018-19 until December 16, when he last featured in Serie A for the Bergamo side, no player across Europe's big five leagues played more key passes than his 233.

Similarly, his 29 assists across the same period was bettered by only Thomas Muller (36), Lionel Messi (34) and Jadon Sancho (33). There were also only five players to create more Opta-defined "big chances" than his 40 in that time.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.