Venezuela v Argentina: Rondon confident of containing Messi
Venezuela have restrained Lionel Messi in recent years and Salomon Rondon is confident Argentina's superstar will be kept quiet once more in their Copa America quarter-final on Friday.
Messi continues to seek a first major trophy at senior international level and his bid for glory in Brazil is now into the do-or-die stages.
He and head coach Lionel Scaloni will hope the knockout rounds have not come too soon for a team that needed victory over Qatar simply to earn second spot in Group B, a 2-0 win in Porto Alegre easing fears raised by a loss to Colombia and draw with Paraguay.
Brazil loom large as potential semi-final combatants but for now Argentina must find a way past opponents who finished as runners-up to the host nation in Group A and have proved stubborn in the past.
Venezuela held the Albiceleste to two draws during 2018 World Cup qualifying, took three points off them in the previous cycle and prevailed 3-1 in a March friendly, a game that heralded Messi's return from his self-imposed international exile.
The Barcelona captain netted when these teams met in the quarter-finals of the Copa America Centenario three years ago but Rondon, Venezuela's inspirational centre-forward, does not anticipate a repeat.
"He has been an important player not only for Argentina but for world football," Rondon said.
"Everyone knows who he is, but we know how to play against him. We showed this in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, if I'm not mistaken.
"We know our conditions, our qualities and we will take advantage on Friday."
Having commended Argentina's "attitude" following the morale-boosting defeat of Qatar, Messi will now hope to lead an improved performance under intense scrutiny in Rio de Janeiro.
"Now begins another Copa," he told reporters after the last outing.
Produce the levels seen in the tournament to date and it could be over just as quickly for Scaloni's side.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Venezuela - Salomon Rondon
It is impossible to ignore that Argentina's defence - breached three times in the opening two games - remains a liability, one that a considerable handful like Rondon could well exploit.
Argentina - Lautaro Martinez
On target against Qatar, Inter forward Martinez is fostering a dangerous partnership with Sergio Aguero and scored Argentina's lone goal in the loss to Venezuela earlier this year.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Argentina have beaten Venezuela the five times they have faced them at the Copa America, scoring 28 goals and conceding only three.
- Of the teams to make it to the quarter-finals, Venezuela allowed the most opposition shots (46) and attempt the fewest (32) during the group stage.
- Venezuela are unbeaten in their past three games against Argentina in all competitions (W1 D2), having lost 20 of the previous 21 clashes (W1).
- Lionel Messi has had a hand in 10 Argentina goals against Venezuela in all competitions (four goals and six assists); the joint most he has been involved in against any national team (also 10 v Paraguay).