Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was the hero as Argentina defeated Colombia on penalties on Wednesday to set up a dream Copa America final against Brazil.
Argentina stopper Martinez saved three penalties in the shoot-out after a bruising 1-1 draw in Brasilia.Hosts Brazil beat Peru 1-0 in Monday's first semi-final meaning their star forward Neymar will line up against Lionel Messi's Argentina on Saturday at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana stadium.
Two years ago a Brazil team missing the injured Neymar knocked out Argentina in the semi-finals before winning their ninth Copa title on home soil.
For Messi, 34, time is running out to win a first major international title with his national team, having previously lost in three Copa finals and the 2014 World Cup final. For once he wasn't his country's main hero, although he did create the opening goal for Lautaro Martinez on seven minutes, before Luis Diaz equalized just after the hour mark.
In the shoot-out, goalkeeper Martinez three times dived to his left to save penalties from center-backs Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina, as well as midfielder Edwin Cardona.
And although Rodrigo De Paul skied his penalty for Argentina, Messi -- who finished with blood seeping visibly from his left ankle -- was amongst the scorers to give them a 3-2 victory on spot-kicks.
Saving penalties "is a question of luck and today it was my turn to be the glorious one," said Martinez."We said it the first day, we want to play the final and what better than playing Brazil on their pitch."
Despite the defeat, Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda was feeling positive, saying their performance "invites us to dream, to think we're on the right path."
"We should lift our heads, look each other in the eyes and know we have nothing to reproach ourselves about," he added. Messi produced some early magic to beat three players and cross for Martinez to head wide.
Colombia didn't heed the warning and on seven minutes, Giovanni Lo Celso found Messi in the box, the diminutive star held off the giant Mina and picked out Martinez to fire into the far corner.
Colombia almost hit back immediately but goalkeeper Martinez was down quickly to keep out Juan Cuadrado's low strike.
Colombia remained the better side after the break with Duvan Zapata having a shot blocked and substitute Miguel Borja firing wide.
But they deservedly equalized on 61 minutes when Cardona took a quick free-kick from inside his own half and sent Diaz scampering away to hold off German Pezzella and dink a clever finish over Martinez. Argentina brought on Angel Di Maria for Gonzalez and the tricky winger immediately brought more urgency to his side's attack.
Daniel Munoz's wayward back pass sent Di Maria scampering towards goal. He dribbled round Ospina and teed up Martinez whose shot was blocked on the line by Barrios before Di Maria blazed the rebound over.