• Forget Leo, here's Lautaro! Inter star is Argentina's new hero at Copa America
    11:13 | 29/06/2019

    Just a year after being left out of Jorge Sampaoli’s World Cup plans, the youngster has grabbed his chance in Brazil to fire his nation to the semis.

    Photo by Getty Images

    He is the new kid on the block, with everything to prove. Lautaro Martinez is relishing the opportunity to strut his stuff for Argentina at the Copa America, outshining even Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero to help his nation down Venezuela 2-0 and march on to meet Brazil in the semi-finals.

    Lautaro, of course, was overlooked for the 2018 World Cup finals along with future Inter team-mate Mauro Icardi. The then-Racing Club striker was in imperious form for his club, but according to Jorge Sampaoli “lacked the extra gear” to make it for the Albiceleste.

    Either the ex-Argentina boss was altogether mistaken about the prospect, or a single season in Serie A has provoked a drastic change in his play, because against Qatar and now Venezuela the 21-year-old added pace and explosion to transform the nation’s Copa America prospects.

    He needed just 10 minutes to unlock the Vinotinto defence, having already played in Sergio Aguero once with a fine pass only to see the Manchester Cityicon denied by Wuilker Farinez.

    This time Aguero repaid the favour, launching a speculative shot from the edge of the area. Lautaro reacted before anyone else with a sublime backheel that caught Farinez and the rest of Venezuela wrong-footed and gave Argentina an invaluable lead.

    Throughout the first half the youngster was almost unstoppable. Messi also benefited from a perfectly placed pass to flash a shot wide, while Martinez himself was inches away from finding himself on the end of a low cross from former Racing team-mate Marcos Acuna.

    And after the break only the woodwork stopped him from doubling Argentina’s tally, having charged onto a fine pass from Leandro Paredes.

    In general, he also did more than anyone on the Argentina team to keep Venezuela on the back-foot with his incessant pressing and hunger for the ball. He may on occasion get carried away, picking up a deserved booking for a heavy early tackle, but his energy is a breath of fresh air in an Albiceleste which has shown precious little initiative so far in Brazil.

    Elsewhere coach Lionel Scaloni breathed a sigh of relief as his selections, savagely and deservedly criticised in this tournament, began to bear fruit. Acuna added balance and defensive savvy to the midfield in place of Giovani Lo Celso, while Juan Foyth dispelled pre-match fears with a fine game on the right side of defence.

    On the hour and with Argentina in clear control, however, the trainer withdrew Martinez and Acuna in a double substitution that left the side rudderless and open to a Vinotinto bombardment. Only the quick reflexes of Franco Armani stopped Salomon Rondon from grabbing a potentially disastrous equaliser which could have spelled the end for the team’s Copa aspirations.

    Just when it looked like they were in for a torrid end to the game, Venezuela self-destructed. The usually flawless Wuilker Farinez somehow spilled a tame Aguero shot right into the path of Giovani Lo Celso, who was left with the simplest of finishes to make it 2-0. It could not have come at a better time for Argentina, who rode out the final 15 minutes with comfort to take the victory.

    Whether that will be enough to down mighty Brazil, of course, remains to be seen.

    Source – Goal.com

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