Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said his side must now go on to win the Copa America Centenario after they edged closer to ending their nation’s 23-year wait for a major title here on Tuesday.
Martino was a happy man after watching his team destroy the United States 4-0 with a sparkling performance at Houston’s NRG Stadium to clinch their place in a third final in as many years.
But despite the plaudits for his team’s performance in the tournament, Martino said the only measure of the side’s success would be outright victory in Sunday’s final in East Rutherford.
“Our main concern was to win the game today, so that we could get back to where we were a year ago and two years ago,” said Martino, referring to Argentina’s place in the 2015 Copa America final and 2014 World Cup final.
Argentina lost both of those finals in agonising fashion, suffering an extra-time defeat to Germany in the World Cup final and losing on penalties against hosts Chile in Santiago last year.
The bitter memory of those twin defeats is driving Argentina’s players towards Sunday’s finale at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Martino said his team would ultimately be judged would depend on whether they defeat either Colombia or Chile, who play in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
“We will know next Sunday. How we are judged will depend exclusively on the outcome of the final,” Martino said.
Martino meanwhile saluted the achievement of captain Lionel Messi, who lit up Tuesday’s semifinal with a freekick while creating two more goals for Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain.
Messi’s first-half strike saw him take sole possession of Argentina’s all-time scoring record, with 55 goals, one clear of previous record-holder Gabriel Batistuta who has 54.
“I’m very happy for him,” Martino said.
“I’m happy that he’s done it here at the Copa America. It is great that the best player in the world is the leading scorer of the Argentina national team.”
Argentina will be without Ezequiel Lavezzi in the Copa America final after he broke his left elbow in the second half of his team’s 4-0 semifinal win against the United States on Tuesday when he tumbled backward over a barrier chasing a ball.
The ball bounced off Lavezzi before he fell over the advertising sign board and broke his fall with his left arm. He immediately grabbed it with the other hand as he writhed in pain, and photos showed the forearm was grotesquely out of place. Trainers ran to him quickly and he was soon taken away by medical personnel.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said he will undergo more tests, and the injury will require surgery.
Lavezzi scored Argentina’s first goal in the third minute and left with his team up 3-0.
(With inputs from AP)