Argentina beat Venezuela to clash with Brazil in semi

Argentina beat Venezuela to clash with Brazil in semi

Argentina's Rodrigo De Paul celebrates after the match. (REUTERS)

Argentina delivered a much-improved performance to beat Venezuela 2-0 in the Copa America quarter-finals on Friday and set up a mouthwatering last-four meeting with Brazil.

Striker Lautaro Martinez scored for the second game running to put Argentina in front in the 10th minute with a clever back-heeled finish, diverting in a shot from Sergio Aguero following a corner swung in by captain Lionel Messi.

Lionel Scaloni's side had to weather a series of attacks from Venezuela in the second half and it took a strong save from Franco Armani to prevent Ronald Hernandez from levelling.

Substitute Giovani Lo Celso scored Argentina's badly-needed second goal in the 74th minute, passing a loose ball into an empty net after another shot from Aguero squirmed through the hands of Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.

Lo Celso's tap-in sealed a therapeutic win for Argentina in their first game back at the iconic Maracana stadium since their 1-0 extra-time defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, which began a cycle of three consecutive losses in major finals.

They had scraped into the last eight with a nervy 2-0 win over Qatar in their final group-stage game after losing to Colombia and drawing with Paraguay, but they expected a sterner test from Venezuela.

Venezuela once lost 11-0 to Argentina in the 1975 Copa America but they have made remarkable advances in recent years despite a backdrop of political turmoil, reaching the 2017 under-20 World Cup final under current coach Rafael Dudamel.

They were unbeaten in their last three games with Argentina which included a resounding 3-1 win in a friendly in March, and captain Tomas Rincon said ahead of the game it was time his side "made a statement".

But they failed to live up to the hype and barely got into Argentina's area before halftime.

Argentina could have got a second early in the second period when Martinez galloped onto a through ball from Leandro Paredes but his shot clipped the crossbar.

Venezuela then took the initiative with a spell of sustained pressure but Argentina showed a resilience and sense of maturity that was lacking in their shabby displays in the group stage.

Their reward is a first Copa America clash with eternal rivals Brazil since 2007 final, which they lost 3-0.

The tournament hosts edged Paraguay in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw on Thursday.

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