HOUSTON — Lionel Messi was too much for the United States to contain.
The five-time world player of the year set up Ezequiel Lavezzi's opening goal in the third minute, scored on a perfect, curling left-footed free kick to break Argentina's career scoring record and assisted on the final goal in a 4-0 rout of the Americans on Tuesday night to book a place at the Copa America Centenario final.
After Messi doubled the lead in the 32nd minute with his 55th international goal, his tournament-leading fifth, Gonzalo Higuain quickly ended U.S. comeback hopes when he put the rebound of his initial shot past goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the 50th. Higuain scored off a Messi pass in the 86th.
The Americans, who didn't get a shot on goal, play Saturday against the loser of tonight's Chile-Colombia semi in the third-place game in Glendale, Ariz.
Argentina seeks its first major title since the 1993 Copa — and its first since Messi's debut in 2005 — on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. It might be missing Lavezzi, who fell backward over an advertising sign board and appeared to land hard on his left arm. Lavezzi left on a cart.
Hosting a special, expanded 16-nation edition of South America's championship to celebrate Copa America's 100th anniversary, the U.S. team won a difficult group that included third-ranked Colombia, then beat No. 13 Ecuador in the quarterfinals. But top-ranked Argentina and Messi, who turns 29 Friday and is at the top of his game, outclassed the U.S. from the opening whistle in front of a sellout crowd of 70,858 at NRG Stadium.
Messi has helped Barcelona win eight titles in Spain's La Liga and four in Europe's Champions League, but his Argentina trophies have been limited to the 2005 FIFA World Under-20 Championship and the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, mostly for U-23 players. La Albiceleste (white and sky blues) lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and to Chile in last year's Copa America final.
The U.S. and coach Jurgen Klinsmann were trying to rebound after getting eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals of last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, losing to Mexico in a playoff for a 2017 Confederations Cup berth and struggling in the semifinal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Klinsmann had midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi start along with forward Chris Wondolowski. Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood all sat out because of suspensions.
The shakeup was none too effective — Beckerman and Wondolowski had both been subbed out by the 60th minute.
Argentina had 11 shots, seven on goal, and dominated possession 68 percent to 32.
Messi moved one ahead Gabriel Batistuta's career total, according to the Argentine Football Association. However, FIFA records Batistuta's total as 56, including two goals in an exhibition against Slovakia in June 1995.