Action from the Copa America Centenario semifinal between the host USA (white jersey) and Argentina on June 21, 2016, in Houston. (Photo: Mexsport)
HOUSTON -- The United States expected a difficult time against Argentina in the Copa America Centenario semifinals on Tuesday night. It just didn't think that chasing the top-ranked team in the world for virtually the entire game at NRG Stadium was a genuine possibility.
Ezequiel Lavezzi, however, tallied in the third minute as the match turned into an uphill battle against a talented side that boasts the best player in the world in Lionel Messi (one goal, two assists). Forward Gonzalo Higuain added two goals in what turned out to be a 4-0 win for the 2014 FIFA World Cup runner-up.
"We let them dictate the pace of the game," said U.S. center-back Geoff Cameron. "They got in a rhythm. They got that early goal and it kind of shot us in the foot a little bit."
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann felt his side paid the Argentineans too much respect.
"It had to do a bit with the early goal," he noted. "I think our players could just feel that, probably in every position on the field, they're just better than we are."
The Americans were outshot, 10-0, and lost the possession battle by a significant margin (67%-33%).
"When you play against one of the best teams in the world, you have to be -- I wouldn't use the word 'perfect' -- but you know that you have to be on top of every little thing," stressed captain Michael Bradley. "You get to this point. Nobody has the mentality that all of a sudden just because you get to the semifinal you're playing with house money. It doesn't work like that. The idea was to take it another step further and get to ourselves into a final. There's big disappointment."
La Albiceleste advanced to Sunday's final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, against the winner of Wednesday night's Colombia-Chile semifinal in Chicago. The U.S. will face the loser in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday.
"To get to a semifinal of a Copa America is a good accomplishment, but at the same time, we wanted to win tonight," goalkeeper Brad Guzan concluded. "We'll now look to finish on a high."
Argentina improved to 2W-0D-1L in three all-time Copa America matches against the Americans.