Messi, Argentina survive penalty kicks vs. Ecuador, advance to Copa America semis

Messi missed his penalty in the shootout but Emi Martinez came up clutch again.

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Lionel Messi and Argentina are marching on -- just barely.

Messi and Argentina beat Ecuador 1-1 (4-2 penalties) in their Copa America quarterfinal match Thursday, seeing La Albiceleste reach the penultimate stage of the tournament.

Despite the result, Ecuador dominated the early stages and caused the most havoc. Left-back Piero Hincapie threatened down the left flank with his pace and crosses, but Enner Valencia, Kendry Paez and Angel Preciado couldn't convert their chances.

Argentina, the reigning tournament champions, gradually got into the game after the 25th minute amid a sluggish start where it couldn't maintain possession and had to sit deeper.

But, in typical Argentina fashion, it absorbed the pressure and took the lead first. On a corner in the 35th minute, Messi's inswinger was tipped up by Alexis Mac Allister and headed home by center-back Lisandro Martinez.

The goal marked Martinez's first for his country, who stars for Manchester United of the English Premier League at the club level.

Argentina led 1-0 at the interval, but the next best chance of the game went to Ecuador.

Ecuador drew a penalty in the 60th minute after a VAR check ruled a hand ball against Argentina in its own penalty box, allowing Valencia to step up for a spot kick.

However, despite sending Emi Martinez the wrong way, Valencia's soft shot hit the left post and went wide.

Then, just when it looked like Argentina would see out the win, Ecuador equalized in the second minute of five added after the 90th. Kevin Rodriguez was credited with the goal that took a deflection to get past Martinez.

The game immediately went to penalty kicks because there is no extra time in the tournament.

Messi stepped up first but saw his Panenka attempt hit the crossbar. Ecuador had the advantage, but proceeded to miss its next two attempts with Martinez coming up clutch once again.

Julian Alvarez, Mac Allister, Gonzalo Montiel and Nicolas Otamendi converted for Argentina after Messi's miss, in that order.

The result ends Ecuador's run in the tournament, which included stopping Mexico from advancing through the group stage. Otherwise, El Tri would've been Argentina's opponent in this round.

Argentina will progress to the semifinal, where it play either Venezuela or Canada on Tuesday, July 9 at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT.

The USMNT's hopes to advance were spoiled as they were knocked out of the Copa America tournament following a 1-0 defeat against Uruguay.
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