RIO DE JANEIRO – Lionel Messi said Argentina would take on hosts Brazil on an equal footing in the Copa America semi-finals after beating Venezuela 2-0 on Friday.
Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso scored the goals that gave improving Argentina a quarter-final success at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.
It was the Argentines’ best performance yet in a tournament they began with 2-0 defeat to Colombia followed by a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.
“It’s difficult to give a favorite between Argentina and Brazil, even more so in this Copa America where anyone can beat anyone,” said the 32-year-old Barcelona star ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte.
“We respect them, we know what Brazil represent,” he added.
The hosts struggled to make the semi-finals, toiling for more than 40 minutes against 10 men before beating Paraguay on penalties following a 0-0 draw in Porto Alegre on Thursday night.
“We’re in good form to take on Brazil, but we’ll have to be very focused,” said five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who admitted he’s not at his best.
“I’m not having my best Copa America,” he said.
But as a team, Messi said their performance against Venezuela was “complete”.
“Defensively we didn’t have any problems, and the team was very solid at all times.
“We didn’t leave them any spaces when they went looking for them. We were very united and waited for the opportunities to counter quickly.”
Having already been scathing about the Gremio Arena pitch in Porto Alegre – as was Brazil coach Tite following their quarter-final there – Messi hit out at the general state of the surfaces in Brazil.
“Honestly, the pitches are really difficult, they don’t favour good football. The ball bounces in every direction, but it’s the same for everyone,” he said.
Venezuela’s coach Rafael Dudamel said the team’s Copa campaign would stand them in good stead in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, noting that his team was “getting stronger, more mature”.