Copa America Centenario favourites Argentina flexed their muscles once again, crushing Bolivia to reach the quarter-finals as the only team with a 100 per cent record.
Lionel Messi started on the bench, playing the second half, but the damage was done before he arrived, thanks to goals from Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Victor Cuesta.
The Barcelona No 10 continues his recuperation from a back injury, having featured for 30 minutes against Panama, in which he scored a hat-trick, and then 45 minutes in this clash.
Erik Lamela (centre) is congratulated by his team-mates after opening the scoring for Argentina
The Tottenham winger’s deflected free-kick wrong footed Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe in the 13th minute
Ezequiel Lavezzi scored Argentina’s second just two minutes later to double their advantage from close range
Lavezzi (centre) celebrates scoring Argentina’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Bolivia
Lionel Messi grins as he walks around the pitch at CenturyLink field in Seattle, Washington
Messi was on the bench as he continued his return to full fitness and Argentina rested several players
Messi was joined by Marcos Rojo, Augusto Fernandez, Nicolas Gaitan and Javier Mascherano on the bench
Messi still ran amok in the second half, with one dizzying dribble tying Diego Bejarano in knots, and another cheeky move seeing him put the ball through goalkeeper Carlos Lampe’s hands and his legs at once, a double nutmeg, although he was called back for offside.
A free-kick effort that dipped narrowly wide and another from 40 yards that nearly caught out the goalkeeper were as close as Messi came to scoring, but that did not matter. The game itself was a non-contest.
‘We are going well as we come into the final straight,’ said coach Tata Martino after the game. ‘There are always players who might get injured, decisions to take, but many players are recovering nicely.’
The Barcelona forward shows off his tattoo on his left leg before rolling up his socks on the Argentina bench
Messi is greeted by Sergio Aguero (left) as he enters the fray at the beginning of the first half in Washington
Messi (left) was a second half substitute and scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s 5-0 win over Panama
Messi gave the American crowd what they had come to see with a dizzying dribble and a nutmeg
The Ballon d’Or winner strikes a free-kick towards goal during the second half of the victory over Bolivia
LINE-UPS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Argentina (4-2-3-1): Romero 6; Roncaglia 6.5, Otamendi 6 (Maidana 75), Funes Mori 6, Cuesta 7; Lavezzi 7.5, Kranevitter 7, Banega 6.5 (Biglia 46, 7), Lamela 7; Aguero 7, Higuain 6 (Messi 46, 7.5).
Booked: Banega, Cuesta.
Goals: Lamela 13, Lavezzi 15, Cuesta 33.
Bolivia (5-4-1): Lampe 8; Saavedra 6, Cabrera 6, Zenteno 5, Gutierrez 5.5, Campos 6; Melean 5.5, Smedberg 6 (Alganaraz 85), Azogue 5; Arce 5 (Machado 46, 6), Duk (Bejarano 24, 5.5).
Booked: Zenteno, Campos, Melean.
Referee: Victor Carrillo
It took just 13 minutes for Argentina to take the lead, with Lamela’s deflected free-kick wrong-footing Lampe.
Two minutes later and Lavezzi doubled Argentina’s lead, firing home from close range after the goalkeeper parried Gonzalo Higuain’s header from close range.
And it was three in the 33rd minute, with centre-back Cuesta prodding Lavezzi’s low cross in at the near post. Job done, game over.
The rest of the match was Argentina keeping possession, a figure which reached a high of 87 per cent at one point, trying to avoid yellow cards and injuries.
An ugly Jhasmani Campos collision with Messi provoked ire from his opposite number, with the pair butting heads, although referee Victor Carrillo calmed the situation down, booking the instigator for his foul.
Goalscorer Lavezzi hurdles a tackle from Bolivia’s Pedro Azogue during the Group D game
Bolivia’s Yasmani Duk lies on the ground injured during the final Copa America group game
A member of security tackles a young fan who tried to enter the pitch at the stadium in Washington
The Barcelona forward will definitely start the semi-final against Bolivia, manager Tata Martino said
That was as close as any Bolivian got to Messi. They were chasing shadows for much of the game, even though Argentina’s line-up was packed with reserves.
The likes of Marcos Rojo, Augusto Fernandez, Nicolas Gaitan and Javier Mascherano were left on the bench to stop them from picking up yellow cards and earning a suspension, while Angel di Maria’s injury will rule him out until the latter stages of the tournament.
Lamela did well in his stead and may have earned himself a start against Venezuela in the quarter-finals, or at least be in a position to compete for Gaitan’s spot. That game is likely to be Messi’s first start too.
The crowds have been baying for him and on Saturday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Messi will be ready to give them what they want.
‘He looks increasingly confident,’ said Martino—and that’s bad news for anyone who crosses his path. Will he start? ‘Messi will play, definitely,’ added the coach, with a smile.
Goalscorer Lavezzi poses with injured winger Angel di Maria in the cockpit of a plane after the win
The Argentina squad pose for a picture on the plan leaving Washington after beating Bolivia 2-0