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Argentina brilliant enough to overcome any defensive deficiencies

After Saturday's 4-1 quarterfinal win against Venezuela, no one has scored more goals for Argentina than Lionel Messi.

True, Gabriel Batistuta took fewer games to get to the 54 mark (77 against Messi's 110). But Batigol was an out-and-out centre-forward, a pure finisher. Messi offers so much more -- as shown by the wonderful pass he gave on Saturday for Gonzalo Higuain's opening goal.

The time has surely come to withdraw one of the most frequently asked questions in football: When will Messi reproduce his club form for his country?

In fact, it is probably more appropriate to flip the question round; can Argentina come close to replicating the form of Messi's Barcelona teammates?

It seems a harsh thing to say about a team who reached the World Cup final two years ago, and only lost the 2015 Copa America final in a penalty shootout. Argentina are fully justified favourites not only to overcome the United States in Houston, but also to lift the trophy on Sunday, ending a long wait for a senior title.

Even so, there remains a vulnerability about them, a sense that the team do not quite convince.

Again, Saturday's quarterfinal provided the evidence. Coach Gerardo Martino confessed that Venezuela had a 15 minute spell of dominance before half-time. Two goals ahead, Argentina should have been able to exert total control. But, in comparison with Barcelona, their possession game is patchy and their pressing poor.

Argentina's defensive line does not inspire great confidence -- John Brooks might be the best centre-back on the field on Tuesday night -- and the structure seems dependent on Javier Mascherano to hold everything together.

When Mascherano slips us, the structure shakes. Venezuela's good spell began when Mascherano was caught in possession, and keeper Sergio Romero had to make an excellent save from Salomon Rondon. It was the first of four clear chances that Venezuela had in the next few minutes -- the last of them the penalty wasted by Luis Manuel Seijas.

Martino acknowledged that Romero's penalty save was vital for morale, allowing the team to enjoy a calm half-time interval. Had Seijas scored, the probability is that Argentina would still have won. Messi has extra gears to move up to if necessary.

Even so, there was another sign of that defensive vulnerability; in the opening game against Chile, centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori got away with a slack pass out of defence, Romero came to the rescue, saving a shot from Alexis Sanchez.

On Saturday, there was no reprieve when Funes Mori did it again, Rondon glancing in from Alejandro Guerra's cross. Argentina immediately found that extra gear and restored a three goal lead within a minute, Erik Lamela rounding off the scoring with his side's fourth.

Lamela, presumably, will start Tuesday's game, after coming off the bench on Saturday to replace Nico Gaitan, who misses the semi through suspension. Angel Di Maria could be fit enough to take a place on the bench.

Di Maria's injury, sustained in the first half of the team's second game, has been the black mark on Argentina's campaign. One of the doubts about the team was whether the big name stars would have enough gas in the tank at the end of the gruelling season. Di Maria breaking down with a muscular problem -- the third consecutive time it has happened in an end of season tournament -- appeared to confirm that concern.

Since then, though, Argentina have been able to nurse their stars. Messi has been brought along gently, in an attempt to ensure that he does not burn out before the end. And with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero both in form, Argentina have the luxury of leaving a top class, confident centre-forward on the bench.

There should, then, be enough individual brilliance to cover up any collective defects -- unless the sapping heat of Houston drains a team which have had a day's less rest than their opponents.

That would seem to be Jurgen Klinsmann's best hope of preventing Messi and Co. from reaching a final for the third year in a row.