La Albiceleste will now play Colombia in the semi-finals as they chase a first major title in 28 years.

Argentina followed up their group-topping performance with a 3-0 thrashing of Ecuador in the Copa America 2021 quarterfinals. Goals from Rodrigo De Paul, Lautaro Martinez and Lionel Messi secured a comfortable victory for La Albiceleste and took them into the semis. Lionel Scaloni’s side have now kept a clean-sheet in three of their last four games.

Coming into this match following a 4-1 win against Bolivia, Argentina attacked right from the offset. Ecuador, on the other hand, could not repeat the same performance from the 1-1 draw with Brazil. With this victory, La Albiceleste have booked their ticket to the semi-finals, where they will face Columbia. Here are five key talking points from the Argentina Vs Ecuador fixture:

5. A balanced Argentinian performance

For the past decade, Argentina have often faced criticism for over-relying on Lionel Messi. But, this edition has shown something different. The 34-year-old has still been involved in 80% of Argentina’s goals at Copa America 2021, but the side this year look more balanced than the previous ones.

The midfield of De Paul, Leandro Paredes and Giovanni Lo Celso have offered more from deep than a typical Argentinian setup. De Paul, in particular, has been key to Argentina’s creativity from the middle of the park. The Udinese star looked as lively as he’s been throughout the tournament against a stubborn Ecuadorian side. He ended the game with 94% passing accuracy and made three key passes on the night, relieving the creative burden off Messi.

At the back, the pair of Nicolas Otamendi and German Pezzella looked relatively solid. Among the full-backs, Marcus Acuna has been a vital component in going forward and defending on the left flank. Overall, Argentina produced a collective and balanced performance against Ecuador.

4. Argentina’s attempts to exploit the Ecuadorian high line

Despite playing against a relatively superior opposition, Ecuador did not change their plan and stuck to their high defensive line. Keeping this in mind, Scaloni setup his side to make darting runs behind the high defensive line of Ecuador.

Lautaro Martinez played on the shoulders of the Ecuadorian center-backs. He connected well with De Paul and Messi and exploited the space behind the high line. Argentina’s first two big scoring chances came from this move.

3. Ecuador’s inability to convert chances

Although Ecuador failed to score past Emiliano Martinez, they came close on several occasions. Enner Valencia and Diego Palacios squandered a big chance each, while the former even had a shot rebound off the post.

Ecuador kept the opposition defence on their toes with several attacking moves. Indeed, it was their attack that kept Ecuador alive in the game. Gustavo Alfaro’s side ended the game with 53% possession and topped all the attacking metrics. But, their inability to hit the target cost Ecuador the match.

2. Lionel Messi’s dazzling performance

Lionel Messi has now scored and assisted four goals each at Copa America 2021. (Courtesy: Copa America)

Another game and yet another Lionel Messi spectacular. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner capped off his two assists with a majestic free-kick goal. He was involved in each of Argentina’s three goals on the night.

Delivering his fourth Man of the Match performance this tournament, Messi was involved in getting the ball from deep. He linked with the frontmen, Nicolas Gonzalez and Martinez. Although the two looked relatively inefficient in the first half, Messi’s playmaking capabilities made sure Argentina created abundant chances. Messi now leads the goalscoring and assists charts at Copa America 2021, with four goals and assists each.

1. Influential second half substitutions

Argentina took the lead in the 40th minute, but looked vulnerable with Ecuador increasing their attacking intensity almost immediately. With his side barely hanging on, Scaloni turned to his bench.

Angel Di Maria and Guido Rodriguez were introduced and they not only wrestled back control but also helped Argentina double their lead. Di Maria was instrumental in the build-up to the second goal, as he caught the Ecuadorian defender napping.

The PSG winger’s ability to be an effective substitute was on display. Similarly, Rodriguez’s performance in midfield minimized Ecuador’s attempts to play through the middle.

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