It wasn't long after the opening whistle before Argentina was on the front foot. In the eighth minute, a long, inswinging cross from Messi in midfield hit Gonzalo Higuain in stride as the striker ran behind the Venezuelan defenders and in on goal. The ball looked like it was going to bound out of Higuain's reach, but the Napoli man stretched and knocked a shot across the face of goal, putting Argentina on top, 1-0.
Higuain doubled the Argentinian lead in the 28th minute, this time thanks to a howler from the Venezuelan defense and keeper Daniel Hernandez. The Argentinian press forced a backpass to the keeper from the midfield. The ball lacked pace, and Higuain pounced on it before it reached the keeper.
Hernandez had charged to the edge of the box to meet a ball that never came. Instead he met Higuain, who sidestepped the keeper and netted into an open goal for the easiest score of his life.
The first half brace from Higuain were his first goals of the Copa America. It only seemed like a matter of time before Higuain started poaching again. He's been in the form of his life this year, scoring 36 goals for Napoli to break a Serie A record that stood for 66 years. If Higuain remains hot, Argentina's title chances just got a boost.
The 2-0 lead gave Argentina a nice cushion, and it took its foot off the gas for the rest of the first half, giving Venezuela ample chances to get back in the match. In fact, Venezuela had three great chances to score between Argentina's second and halftime, but failed to find the net each time.
First came a chance off the corner in the 39th minute. On a worked set piece, Salomon Rondon rose above Nicolas Otamendi and beat keeper Sergio Romero with his header, but the ball clanged off the post. Moments later, Romero was forced to make a crazy save when a Venezuelan shot took a wicked deflection off a defender. Romero was too far out of goal and forced to run back and make the falling, diving save to keep the ball from dropping into goal.
But Venezuela's best chance came on a penalty. In the 43rd minute, Romero dove for a ball at a Venezuelan attackers feet, but wiped out the attacker instead of securing the ball. The referee rightly pointed to the spot, and Luis Seijas stepped up to take the penalty.
On the PK, Seijas tried to be cheeky, and fired a Panenka-style shot right down the middle. But the attempt didn't fool Romero, who stayed glued to his spot and calmly collected the trickling shot in his arms, ending Venezuela's hopes of getting a goal back before the break.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, Messi got on the scoresheet. A give-and-go in the box put the ball at Messi's feet mere yards from goal. From there, Messi simply rolled a shot at goal, nutmegging the keeper Hernandez, and taking the lead for the Copa America Golden Boot with his fourth of the tournament.
Messi's goal was one for the history books. It was his 54th career goal for Argentina's senior team, tying him for the most all-time with Gabriel Bautista.
By this point, Argentina were comfortably through to the semifinals, but Venezuela kept attacking. It got its reward for the sustained pressure when Rondon scored in the 70th minute to claw the score back to 3-1.
But Argentina was flying, and on the next trip down the field, just a minute later, the Albiceleste knocked the margin back to three goals with a score from Erik Lamela, his second of the Copa America.
Argentina's next match comes on Tuesday against the USMNT in Houston. The Albiceleste will be the heavy favorite, and if you watched the above goals you'll know why. With the field thinning, and Argentina hitting its stride, this is Messi and Co.'s title to lose.