CUIABA, Brazil: Lionel Messi passed Javier Mascherano as Argentina’s most capped international on Monday and scored twice as they beat Bolivia 4-1 to set up a Copa America quarter-final against Ecuador.
Messi was in fine form on his 148th appearance for Argentina and it was his sublime pass that set up Alejandro Gomez to volley home the opening goal after five minutes.
Barcelona forward Messi doubled their lead from the penalty spot just after the half-hour mark and then made it 3-0 shortly before halftime when he ran on to a through ball from Sergio Aguero and lobbed Carlos Lampe.
Bolivia, who had lost their previous 11 Copa America matches, made life more difficult for themselves by repeatedly giving up possession in their own half.
However, they improved after the break and surprised Argentina on the hour when Erwin Saavedra swept home a cross from the right to make it 3-1.
Their slight hopes of a comeback were extinguished within five minutes as substitute Lautaro Martinez restored Argentina’s three-goal advantage within seconds of replacing Sergio Aguero.
Messi’s goals were his 74th and 75th for the national side and it could have been more but for another excellent performance by Lampe in the Bolivian goal.
The win extended Argentina’s unbeaten streak to 17 games, a run that goes back to the last Copa America when they lost to Brazil in the semi-finals.
“We’re in good form going into the quarter-finals,” said Giovani Lo Celso, who came on in the second half.
“The team knows how it is playing and what it wants to do. We’re getting better and now comes the most beautiful part.”
The result means Argentina will face Ecuador in the last eight on Saturday while Uruguay, who beat Paraguay 1-0, will play Colombia the same day.
Host nation Brazil will take on Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, while Paraguay play Peru the same day.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie in London; Editing by Peter Rutherford)