FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Lionel Messi scored and added two assists in his first Copa America start this year to lead Argentina over Venezuela 4-1 Saturday night and into a semifinal against the host United States.
Messi’s goal in the 60th minute gave Argentina a 3-0 lead and was his 54th in international play.
The Barcelona star also took over the Copa America scoring lead with his fourth goal of the tournament. Argentina now has two days to rest before playing the U.S. in Houston on Tuesday night.
Argentina is 6-2-2 against the U.S., with the teams playing to a 1-1 draw in a 2011 friendly in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The last American win was in a 1999 exhibition in Washington, D.C.
The Americans have been off since beating Ecuador on Thursday. With many in the Gillette Stadium wearing No. 10 from Messi’s national team and La Liga jerseys, the five-time FIFA Player of the Year started the game after playing a total of just 74 minutes in the three group stage matches.
Just eight minutes in, he connected with Gonzalo Higuain on a long entry pass to make it 1-0. Messi gathered it in from the sideline and lofted a long pass to Higuain, who split two defenders took the ball on a short hop and booted it in. Higuain scored again in the 28th to make it 2-0.
Messi made it 3-0 when he took a pass from Nicolas Gaitan just outside the 6-yard box.
Venezuela finally beat Romero in the 70th minute when Salomon Rondon headed the ball in, nicking the post on the way.
But Messi assisted again on Erik Lamela’s goal a minute later to make it 4-1.
Belgium comes alive
After a poor start to the European Championship, Belgium began living up to its promise Saturday with a resounding 3-0 victory over Ireland at Bordeaux, France.
Romelu Lukaku scored two second-half goals as Belgium’s much-vaunted attack finally sprang to life after a disappointing display in the opening 2-0 loss to Italy.
Belgium — one of the tournament favorites — started the second half strongly. Lukaku struck in the 48th minute after a swift counterattack. Axel Witsel doubled the score in the 61st and Lukaku scored again in the 70th.
Iceland 1, Hungary 1. Birkir Saevarsson scored a late own-goal to hand Hungary a draw with Iceland in Marseille in another European Championship match affected by crowd trouble. Saevarsson turned a cross from Nemanja Nikolic into his own net as Iceland was headed for its first victory at a major tournament.Iceland took the lead in the 40th minute when Gylfi Sigurdsson scored from the penalty spot.
Portugal 0, Austria 0. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a late penalty in the draw against Austria in Paris that left his team winless after two matches. — AP