Thiago Silva labelled Lionel Messi the greatest player of all-time ahead of Brazil's Copa America semi-final showdown against Argentina.

Messi has been criticised after a quieter Copa America campaign, although Argentina are into the last four and face their rivals in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

Silva said there was no doubt the Barcelona star, a five-time Ballon d'Or winner, deserved to be considered the best player ever.

"For me, Messi is the greatest player in history, the greatest player I've ever seen," the Paris Saint-Germain defender told a news conference on Saturday.

"But now, it's Brazil and Argentina. We'll leave it to admire him in other games ahead."

Brazil have endured some difficulties as Copa hosts, booed repeatedly by their fans and needing penalties to edge past Paraguay in the quarter-finals, and now they face a Messi-led Argentina side growing in confidence after back-to-back wins.

While Messi has scored just once in four games at the tournament, Silva praised the forward's ability to produce moments of magic.

"Every time we face each other, whether in the national team or in the Champions League, it's very difficult to face him," he said.

"No matter how much you study, you will never understand the quality he has and the difference he can make.

"At certain times, he pulls something else out of the hat that you cannot imagine. That's his difference.

"As a centre-back you have to study all the possibilities. We know he always pulls left, but many times he pulls right."

Argentina's Angel Di Maria has defended Lionel Messi's displays at the Copa America, insisting the forward is performing "very well".

Messi has scored just once, from the penalty spot against Paraguay, in four games at the tournament, where Argentina reached the semi-finals courtesy of a 2-0 win over Venezuela on Friday.

The Barcelona star has come under criticism for his underwhelming performances but Di Maria, who made his 100th appearance for his country as a second-half substitute against Venezuela, believes his contribution has been important.

"I think Leo is doing things very well," he told reporters. "He's not scoring goals like he usually does, but I think he's doing a good job.

"He's running and he's giving everything. He has to keep running and then the rest will come. I think he is doing very well."

Argentina face Brazil in a mouth-watering semi-final on Tuesday and Di Maria knows his side will have to be at their best to overcome the host nation.

"With Brazil it's a complicated game, but I think all the teams make it difficult for you," he added.

"Brazil will play as our equals and they will have the home support. We have to try to play our way, do what we did against Venezuela and hopefully things will go well."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni defended Lionel Messi, saying the star was still key to his team despite a quieter Copa America campaign.

Messi has scored just once, from the penalty spot against Paraguay, in four games at the tournament, where Argentina reached the semi-finals courtesy of a 2-0 win over Venezuela on Friday.

Amid criticism of the Barcelona star, Scaloni defended Messi, saying there were no doubts over the 32-year-old.

"I think, along with many other people, that he [Messi] is an essential addition on the pitch," he told a news conference.

"If you were here to see how much he contributes in the dressing room, how much he contributes on the pitch for his team-mates, maybe you would think differently.

"I can assure you he is a big part of the team, we have no doubts about that."

Scaloni added: "Messi is Messi. He's the best, above everyone else."

Argentina's win sent them through to a blockbuster semi-final against Brazil in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

Scaloni is excited by the meeting between the rivals, with hosts Brazil having edged past Paraguay on penalties.

"This match will be something beautiful to experience for all of you, for all football fans out there," he said.

"For us on the bench, it will be harder. But it will be a beautiful game, very nice, and we will try to complicate things for them and try to win it."

Lionel Messi admitted he had been below his best at the Copa America so far, but said Argentina's progress to the semi-finals was most important.

Argentina set up a blockbuster semi-final against hosts Brazil by beating Venezuela 2-0 at the Maracana on Friday.

Messi has scored just once in Argentina's four games, and his goal came from the penalty spot against Paraguay in the group stage.

The Barcelona star, whose team face Brazil on Tuesday, accepted he was yet to hit top form at the tournament.

"The truth is that it's not been my best Copa America, not what I expected," Messi said.

"There are matches that occur in this way. You cannot play a lot, it's complicated for those of us who want to do something different, to avoid rivals.

"The important thing is that we won and we continue."

Messi started in behind the front two of Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero against Venezuela, with the Inter forward getting on the scoresheet for the second straight game.

After the win, Messi was happy with the attacking trio, while he slammed the pitches – which have been criticised throughout the Copa America – in Brazil again.

"We know it is fundamental that if we want to play the top three, we must run and help in defence," he said.

"It is a cup match, anyone beats anyone. It is difficult to play, the pitches are bad. It is a shame that all the pitches are like this in a Copa America."

Colombia will host the final of the 2020 Copa America, the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) has confirmed.

The tournament is being co-hosted with Argentina, but the FCF said on Friday it will stage the final for only the second time.

Colombia also welcomed the 2001 competition, when they won their first Copa America title by beating Mexico 1-0 in the final.

"The executive committee of the Colombian Football Federation is proud and happy to announce that the final of the Copa America Colombia-Argentina 2020 will be played in our country," an FCF statement said.

"For Colombia, it is a privilege to have this vote of confidence on the part of CONMEBOL, to elect us as the venue for the final of the most important tournament in South America.

"The South American Football Confederation can be sure that we will make all our efforts and put all our professionalism and work to make the final of the 2020 Copa America a memorable event.

"We will assume this responsibility with great joy, but with a huge commitment. We are convinced that together with Argentina we will make a wonderful Copa America."

Argentina, who last hosted the tournament in 2011, booked a semi-final clash with rivals Brazil in this year's Copa by knocking out Venezuela on Friday.

Colombia are set to face holders Chile in the quarter-finals, with Uruguay and Peru also competing for a last-four spot.

Nicolas Otamendi praised Argentina for struggling through their torrid early form at the Copa America to book a semi-final showdown with bitter rivals Brazil.

Lautaro Martinez's instinctive early finish and a 74th-minute tap-in from substitute Giovani Lo Celso secured a 2-0 quarter-final win over Venezuela at the Maracana – the scene of La Albiceleste's World Cup final defeat to Germany five years ago.

The best performance Lionel Scaloni's side have managed in the tournament to date secured a meeting with the hosts in Belo Horizonte next Tuesday and Otamendi reflected on their improvements from a shambling start to the group stage.

"We knew it would be difficult from the beginning. It took time to take off, we got better," the Manchester City centre-back told reporters.

"Now we are in the semi-finals against an opponent where it is a clasico and we hope it will go in favour of Argentina."

Otamendi came out on top in an absorbing duel with Venezuela striker Salomon Rondon as a previously porous Argentina backline showed signs of finding their feet.

"We knew it was going to be a difficult, hard and very intense match," he said.

"The important thing was to keep discipline, with very strong players like Rondon who hold [the ball up] well. 

"We controlled the game very well for most of the time. Maybe from dead balls the opponents had a few chances. 

"The goal in the second half gave us a cushion. We were attacking and we knew how to keep organised well. It's a great victory for us."

Otamendi's club team-mate Sergio Aguero, whose shots led to both Argentina goals, was similarly fired up by the prospect of taking on Brazil.

"We will try to do our best, as we have been doing, to work for the shirt," he said.

"Argentina-Brazil is not played every day, especially in a competition like this. It generates a lot of expectation, not only in our country but in the world.

"We knew that this match was not going to be easy but we are happy to have gone to the semi-finals. Little by little we are getting better."

Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso were on target for Argentina as they downed Venezuela 2-0 to set up a mouth-watering Copa America semi-final against hosts Brazil.

Martinez's instinctive 10th-minute finish was his sixth goal in 10 international appearances and due reward as Lionel Scaloni's men made a rapid start.

They faded during the second half but Lo Celso capitalised upon an error from Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez to settle matters at the Maracana - the stadium where Argentina lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.

It means Lionel Messi's ambitions of a first international title remain on track, with Argentina's bitterest rivals now standing in his way.

Martinez displayed his burgeoning understanding with Sergio Aguero in attack by playing in the Manchester City striker with a deft early pass – Farinez saving with his feet.

The set-piece deliveries of Messi and Leandro Paredes were causing Venezuela problems and, after an unmarked German Pezzella should have opened the scoring, Martinez duly did.

The Inter star converted a wonderful backheel from Aguero's miscued shot and quickfire bookings for captain Tomas Rincon and fellow midfielder Yangel Herrera soon afterwards suggested Venezuela were losing their composure.

Jhon Chancellor powered over a chance to equalise in the 40th minute, although Rafael Dudamel's side needed a brilliant clearance from Roberto Rosales to prevent Martinez from turning in a second after slick interplay between Messi and Marcos Acuna.

Martinez crashed against the back stanchion after Paredes unpicked Venezuela with a sumptuous 48th-minute pass.

Dudamel boldly sent on winger Yeferson Soteldo for centre-back Luis Del Pino and Argentina were forced to absorb sustained pressure for the first time in the contest.

Franco Armani saved sharply from Ronaldo Hernandez after Scaloni's decision to withdraw Martinez and Acuna raised eyebrows.

Farinez's work at the other end contrasted horribly when he spilled Aguero's 74th-minute shot to leave Lo Celso with a tap-in.

What does it mean: Scaloni's Argentina taking shape before showdown with old enemy

Scaloni's sparse coaching credentials were pored over as Argentina staggered through the opening matches of their campaign. This was easily his team's best performance of the tournament until his questionable second-half changes, with Paredes excelling in a midfield three where Acuna provided much-needed edge. La Albiceleste's attacking prowess has never been in doubt but a shaky backline enjoyed greater protection and Armani handled soundly throughout.

Martinez shows ruthless streak again

As he did in the vital group win over Qatar, Martinez gave Argentina an early lead – his supreme poaching instincts to the fore. More importantly, the 21-year-old appears entirely unhindered by the weight of expectation and failures that has sapped many of his compatriots over recent years.

Messi short of brilliant best

It was largely a game of personal frustration for Messi, who was largely well shackled by combative opponents. But his delight at Argentina's progress was clear and it bodes well that a team so shambolic of late were able to prevail with their talisman short of the A-game he will surely need against Brazil.

What's next: The Copa clash the world wants to see

As unlikely as it seemed when Argentina toyed with group-stage elimination, the two great rivals in South American football now have the chance to produce a clash for the ages in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday. Despite their shot-shy efforts against Paraguay, Brazil will be favourites. But are Argentina just about clicking at the right time?

Lionel Scaloni hopes Argentina can take confidence from their win over Qatar into their Copa America quarter-final against Venezuela.

Goals from Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero helped Argentina beat Qatar to move into the last eight, where Venezuela await at the Maracana on Friday.

Scaloni said that victory had given his side plenty of confidence as they eye the semi-finals.

"We think we're good because we came from a win that gave us a significant emotional boost," he told a news conference.

"It's going to be a difficult game, but we are confident."

Argentina have dominated Venezuela at the Copa America, winning their five meetings and scoring 28 goals while conceding just three.

But Scaloni said he expected his team to be challenged by a Venezuela side that were unbeaten in Group A.

"Football has evolved," he said. "Nowadays, every team has difficulty."

Venezuela have restrained Lionel Messi in recent years and Salomon Rondon is confident Argentina's superstar will be kept quiet once more in their Copa America quarter-final on Friday.

Messi continues to seek a first major trophy at senior international level and his bid for glory in Brazil is now into the do-or-die stages.

He and head coach Lionel Scaloni will hope the knockout rounds have not come too soon for a team that needed victory over Qatar simply to earn second spot in Group B, a 2-0 win in Porto Alegre easing fears raised by a loss to Colombia and draw with Paraguay.

Brazil loom large as potential semi-final combatants but for now Argentina must find a way past opponents who finished as runners-up to the host nation in Group A and have proved stubborn in the past.

Venezuela held the Albiceleste to two draws during 2018 World Cup qualifying, took three points off them in the previous cycle and prevailed 3-1 in a March friendly, a game that heralded Messi's return from his self-imposed international exile.

The Barcelona captain netted when these teams met in the quarter-finals of the Copa America Centenario three years ago but Rondon, Venezuela's inspirational centre-forward, does not anticipate a repeat.

"He has been an important player not only for Argentina but for world football," Rondon said.

"Everyone knows who he is, but we know how to play against him. We showed this in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, if I'm not mistaken.

"We know our conditions, our qualities and we will take advantage on Friday."

Having commended Argentina's "attitude" following the morale-boosting defeat of Qatar, Messi will now hope to lead an improved performance under intense scrutiny in Rio de Janeiro.

"Now begins another Copa," he told reporters after the last outing.

Produce the levels seen in the tournament to date and it could be over just as quickly for Scaloni's side.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Venezuela - Salomon Rondon

It is impossible to ignore that Argentina's defence - breached three times in the opening two games - remains a liability, one that a considerable handful like Rondon could well exploit.

Argentina - Lautaro Martinez

On target against Qatar, Inter forward Martinez is fostering a dangerous partnership with Sergio Aguero and scored Argentina's lone goal in the loss to Venezuela earlier this year.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina have beaten Venezuela the five times they have faced them at the Copa America, scoring 28 goals and conceding only three.
- Of the teams to make it to the quarter-finals, Venezuela allowed the most opposition shots (46) and attempt the fewest (32) during the group stage.
- Venezuela are unbeaten in their past three games against Argentina in all competitions (W1 D2), having lost 20 of the previous 21 clashes (W1).
- Lionel Messi has had a hand in 10 Argentina goals against Venezuela in all competitions (four goals and six assists); the joint most he has been involved in against any national team (also 10 v Paraguay).

Lionel Messi turns 32 on Monday and the Barcelona and Argentina forward's status as one of the greatest players of all time has been firmly cemented.

Not only is he one of the most gifted players to ever play football, he is undoubtedly one of the game's most devastating goalscorers.

Those goals are frequently head-turning in their brilliance, so to celebrate the birthday boy we take on the unenviable task of selecting his 10 best for club and country.  

Feliz cumpleanos, Leo!

 

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Malaga (H): March 22, 2009

Thierry Henry's favourite goal by Messi during their time playing together for Barca. Why not let the France great take up the story? "It defied logic what he did," Henry said in the 'Take the Ball, Pass the Ball' documentary. "There's a diagonal ball and he controls it on his chest. He runs full speed, then the first player goes and the second player is just behind. If he takes another step, that player will clear the ball." A shimmy of the body and deft touch later – in the blink of an eye – Messi stabbed into the top corner to conclude a moment of 100-miles-per-hour brilliance.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as a defining goal in his career, this strike against Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in a goal that began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

At the height of the Clasico rivalry between Guardiola's Barca and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the two teams met four times in three different competitions in less than a month. The league meeting ended in a draw and Madrid won the Copa del Rey final, but Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, an ill-tempered affair to say the least, saw Messi make it 2-0 by bursting beyond four attempted challenges and slotting past Iker Casillas, all in the space of around five seconds.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca would regain their LaLiga title from Madrid but were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern Munich when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly sidefooting home from just inside the penalty area.

Iran (N): June 21, 2014

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Messi had only scored one goal in eight appearances. Seemingly determined to step up for Argentina, he netted in his side's opening match before going on to score one of the goals of the tournament in the second against Iran. With the score at 0-0 heading into stoppage time, Messi took control of the ball and bent a powerful strike past the despairing arms of Alireza Haghighi to break Iranian hearts.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Madrid the title, and it looked to be heading for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Ecuador (A): October 11, 2017

Romario Ibarra's first-minute goal in the last match of CONMEBOL qualification left football fans across the globe staring at the prospect of the unthinkable - a World Cup without Messi. Enter the man himself, who dragged Argentina out of a bumbling stupor to single-handedly tear Ecuador apart with a sensational hat-trick. The shift of pace and stunning, dipping finish into the top corner to claim the matchball was the best of the bunch and a grateful bench spilled on to the field to mob their hero.

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Rarely has a hat-trick been completed in finer fashion. Messi's two goals had helped Barca to a 3-1 lead at the Benito Villamarin, before he passed to Ivan Rakitic, ran onto the return ball and sent a first-time chip over goalkeeper Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from just inside the box. It was a sublime effort that even had the home fans on the feet, applauding - something Messi himself admitted he has not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, one of few skills to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods in the Champions League semi-final at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then simply had to bow to greatness when, after being brought down by Fabinho, Barca's talisman swept an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top corner. That strike took Messi to 600 Barca goals, but the shine was taken off six days later as Liverpool mounted a sensational second-leg comeback, winning 4-0 at Anfield.

Every birthday that passes represents a step closer to a time world football will no longer be able to enjoy the prodigious talents of Lionel Messi on the pitch.

The Barcelona and Argentina star is 32 on Monday, an age at which most players would be considered to be entering the twilight of their careers.

Granted, if the years are kind to Messi, he could play until he is 40 - he will surely be good enough.

For the moment, he shows little sign of slowing down and continues to rack up the achievements, accolades, trophies and goals.

Here's a breakdown of the birthday boy's achievements at each age...

 

MESSI THROUGH THE YEARS

17 - Messi announced himself to Spanish football as a 17-year-old, making his debut against Espanyol before going on to get his first goal, a delightful lob in a win over Albacete, having had a similar finish harshly disallowed. That season also brought his first piece of silverware, as Barca won LaLiga.

18 - On the international stage, Messi's career has been a case of 'what might have been' and the signs were there right from the start. His Argentina debut at the age of 18 lasted less than a minute, as he was sent off in a friendly against Hungary. However, he did get his first goal at the same age, scoring against Croatia. At club level, he got his hands on the Champions League for the first time, plus a second LaLiga title and the Spanish Supercopa.

19 - A second successive Supercopa arrived for Messi when he was 19, though his greatest achievement of the year was his first hat-trick, in El Clasico of all games. A clinical finish at the end of a flowing move was followed by an emphatic volley and fine solo effort in a 3-3 draw.

20 - Although he was clearly already destined for greatness, Messi's career may have been significantly different had Pep Guardiola not been appointed Barca coach when the forward was 20. His arrival came after Frank Rijkaard could only guide Barca to third in LaLiga.

21 - Messi found another level and truly established himself as Barca's key player at the age of 21. He scored 38 goals that year, helping the club to a remarkable treble, which included his second European title and a third LaLiga crown.

22 - Champions League and Copa del Rey retention were beyond Barca the following year, though Messi still got to lift the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup for the first time. The Blaugrana also won LaLiga and the Supercopa, while Messi took home his first Ballon d'Or and European Golden Shoe.

23 - Another glorious year followed, as Messi got his hands on a fifth LaLiga title and won the Champions League for the third time. He scored 53 goals as a 23-year-old, a personal best at the time, and unsurprisingly clinched a second successive Ballon d'Or.

24 - Although the two main trophies eluded Barca and Messi when he was 24, it proved to be his best year to date in terms of goals. He scored a remarkable 73 in all competitions, making him the obvious winner of a third consecutive Ballon d'Or and second European Golden Shoe.

25 - Incredibly, Messi reached the 300 goals mark for Barca when he was just 25. The same year he guided the team to the league title – his sixth – and won the Ballon d'Or for the fourth season in a row, making him the first to ever achieve the feat.

26 - Having passed the 300 mark at 25, netting 60 that year, Messi became Barca's all-time leading scorer across all matches – including friendlies – when he was 26, passing Paulino Alcantara's record of 369. The Spanish Supercopa was the only trophy he won that year, however, as Gerardo Martino was dismissed.

27 - Messi's Champions League drought ended when he was 27 and he was truly back to his best. He boosted his goal haul from 41 the previous year to 58, passing the 400 mark in the process, and inspired the team to another treble.

28 - It was another hugely successful year for Messi at 28, with LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup all added to the crowded Barca trophy cabinet. Messi also increased his personal collection, winning a fifth Ballon d'Or. He also overtook Gabriel Batistuta to become Argentina's all-time leading scorer.

29 - The goals landmarks continued to tumble at 29, with Messi surpassing 500 in a Barca shirt. For the year he scored an impressive 54, earning himself a fourth European Golden shoe. With the club, he lifted a fifth Copa del Rey title and seventh Supercopa, but Luis Enrique ended his three-year stint at the helm.

30 - Early in the 2017-18 season, Messi became the first player to reach 350 LaLiga goals and made his 600th appearance for the club across all competitions in November. After the turn of the year, he broke Gerd Muller's record for most league goals at one club in Europe's top five competitions, before helping Barca to a domestic double, while they also set a new record unbeaten streak in LaLiga – 43 matches.

31 - With Andres Iniesta gone, Barca made Messi their new captain in August 2018 and he lifted his first trophy as skipper the same month, winning the Supercopa. He was inspirational in the title win, sparing the team's blushes several times with late goals and winning a sixth Pichichi trophy, equalling Telmo Zarra's record. He also netted his 600th Barca goal but Champions League and Copa del Rey success eluded the Blaugrana.

Lionel Messi is urging Argentina to find another level after securing a spot in the Copa America knockout phase, telling them a new tournament begins now.

Argentina produced an improved performance on Sunday, beating Qatar 2-0 to revive what had been a stuttering campaign.

Defeat would have seen Argentina crash out of the tournament in humiliating fashion, but Lautaro Martinez put them ahead early on and they never looked back.

Sergio Aguero got the clincher, and although it was by no means a vintage display, La Albiceleste got the job done when under pressure.

Messi is now urging his team-mates to forget about the group stage – which included a draw with Paraguay and defeat to Colombia – as they embark on the knockout phase, having been impressed with their attitude against Qatar.

"Now beings another Copa," he told reporters.

"We needed a victory like that to gain confidence, now we have the obligation to win to advance, but we came [into the match] in a different way [to the previous games].

"The attitude was what I liked the most. We knew what we had to do and it's difficult to play those games.

"We created situations and we did not suffer much against an opponent that the rest of the group found complicated."

Argentina will face Venezuela - second in Group A - in the quarter-finals on Friday.

Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez said the Copa America and a showdown with Lionel Messi provided great experience for the Asian champions.

Messi's Argentina progressed to the quarter-finals thanks to a 2-0 Group B win over guests Qatar in Porto Alegre on Sunday.

Qatar had a chance to advance, with the Asian Cup winners and 2022 World Cup hosts third ahead of Argentina on goal difference prior to kick-off.

But Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero extinguished Qatar's hopes as Argentina finished runners-up behind Colombia, though Sanchez took plenty away from his team's campaign in South America.

"Of course, a player like Leo Messi can make a difference," Sanchez told reporters. "Sometimes with goals, or with assists.

"We tried to mark the pass lines so that he did not participate so much in the game, but we know that it is difficult because he occupies several areas of the field.

"I think we managed to make sure that Leo Messi did not score goals, but in the end, we conceded two goals and the result is the same.

"But it was worth the experience, playing with a team with the most decisive player in the world. Another experience to learn and improve Qatar in the future."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said the pressure on his players made it feel like they were at war after a 2-0 win over Qatar earned them a place in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Goals from Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero ensured the Albiceleste avoided a potential banana skin on a night when defeat would have sent them crashing out of the competition at the first hurdle.

Victory teed up a quarter-final clash with Group A runners-up Venezuela and Scaloni admitted the result was a welcome one after a gruelling start to the competition.

"We have things to improve but we are satisfied," said Scaloni. "We needed a game like that to gain confidence.

"Especially in the second half, we played without fear.

"We will have to adjust some things against other types of opponents."

Scaloni came under fire after his players lost to Colombia and drew with Paraguay in their opening games of the competition and failed to play with the confidence and urgency on display against Qatar.

He dismissed the impact of that criticism on him personally, saying: "I never think of myself. I always think of the national team.

"I would like the message to be different, to be balanced at the end of the tournament. Everything surrounding the national team should be more balanced.

"Sometimes, these guys go out to play a soccer game and they seem to go out and play a war. With the pressure on them sometimes it is difficult to play.

"The message should be that while playing in the Copa America we are all on the same side."

An improved Argentina cruised to a 2-0 win over Qatar to revive their stuttering Copa America campaign and progress to the quarter-finals along with Group B winners Colombia.

On a night when defeat would have seen them bomb out of the competition, the Albiceleste were rarely troubled at Gremio Arena, where Lautaro Martinez fired them into an early lead after a Bassam Al Rawi error gifted him the simplest of chances.

It was not a vintage Argentina performance by any stretch of the imagination, but after defeat to Colombia and a draw with Paraguay in their opening matches, coach Lionel Scaloni will have been relieved to see his side dominate for large spells to set up a meeting with Venezuela. 

Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi both had numerous opportunities to extend Argentina's lead and the Manchester City forward did so eight minutes from time as tournament guests Qatar were dumped out of the competition despite some impressive displays.

Al Rawi's woeful clearance was easily intercepted by Martinez, who simply side-footed it into the bottom corner of the net to give Scaloni's men a fourth-minute lead.

Franco Armani had to hurtle off his line to narrow the angle on Hassan Al Haydos as he bore down on goal, the Argentina goalkeeper getting a hand to the Qatar captain's lob to keep his side in front.

But the 2022 World Cup hosts rarely threatened and were fortunate to go in trailing by only a solitary goal after Aguero fired tamely wide when Messi presented him with a golden opportunity from the edge of the box.

Aguero missed a trio of second-half chances as Qatar struggled to contain him, and goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb did well to parry the striker's stinging close-range volley.

Al Sheeb made another diving save from an Aguero pile-driver before Messi uncharacteristically ballooned over the crossbar from 12 yards with the whole goal to aim at.

Aguero finally got his goal after outpacing Boualem Khoukhi and drilling a low shot that beat Al Sheeb and bulged the bottom corner of the net to make sure of the result.

What does it mean? Crisis averted – for now

Had Argentina been forced to pack their bags, the inquest back home would have been tempestuous. As it stands Scaloni can breathe again, but he must continue to demand further improvements as his players head into the last eight.

Aguero just the tonic

After Messi and Martinez laboured in a front two in Argentina's 1-1 draw with Paraguay last time out, the addition of Aguero in a three-pronged attack did the trick here.

Al Rawi error costs Qatar

Given the way Argentina bossed the first half it is unlikely Qatar would have kept them at bay had Al Rawi not opened the door to them, but in doing so he tarnished his side's chances.

What's next?

Argentina will face Group A runners-up Venezuela in the quarter-finals, while Qatar return home with only one point but plenty of new admirers after some good moments in their three group games.

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