FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Lionel Messi had a goal and two assists in his first start at the Copa America Centenario as Argentina defeated Venezuela 4-1 in a quarterfinal on Saturday.
Gonzalo Higuain also scored twice as Argentina advanced to face the United States in a semifinal on Tuesday in Houston.
Messi's goal was his 54th for his country and matched Gabriel Batistuta's national record.
After only appearing as a substitute in two group-stage games while recovering from a back injury, Messi proved dangerous from the beginning as he dribbled into the top of the Venezuela box and chipped a shot that goalkeeper Daniel Hernandez snagged.
And two minutes later Messi threatened again, cutting inside to wrong-foot Rolf Feltscher before snapping a shot just wide of the far post.
Messi had more success as a provider in the eighth minute, when he lofted a perfect pass between two defenders. A sliding Higuain met the ball on the half-volley and redirected it past Hernandez.
And Messi almost doubled Argentina's lead three minutes later after Hernandez had a miscue with his defenders and tried to play the ball outside of his box. Messi gathered it and tried a lofted shot from 25 yards, but it sailed wide.
Venezuela, the surprise performers of the tournament, fought back and nearly had an equaliser when Sergio Romero had to concede a corner with Salomon Rondon rushing in on goal.
Messi was again the danger man in the 22nd minute as he appeared to draw a penalty when Arquimedes Figuera tackled him from behind, but Mexican referee Roberto Garcia ruled he had gotten a touch to the ball.
Argentina kept up the pressure and Higuain had a sharp shot blocked in front of goal. The striker was soon rewarded for his efforts, though, when he picked off Figuera's horrendous back pass and rounded Hernandez to tap home for Argentina's second goal.
Venezuela then saw a number of chances go awry before the end of the first half. First Romero saved Rondon's hard shot from the top of the box, and then Rondon's header from a corner bounced off the post.
But the worst moment came in the 44th minute after Venezuela earned a penalty when Romero took out Josef Martinez while trying to reach a cross.
From the spot, Luis Seijas tried to beat Romero with a chipped Panenka but the goalkeeper was not fooled and stayed put to easily hold the comical attempt.
Messi finally got his goal -- his Copa-best fourth of the tournament -- on the hour mark after Oswaldo Vizcarrondo gave the ball away deep in his own half. Nicolas Gaitan ran onto it and passed across to Messi, who finished past Hernandez to make it 3-0.
Venezuela earned a lifeline when Salomon Rondon flicked a header past Romero from a Alejandro Guerra cross on 70 minutes.
But Argentina hit back less than a minute later as Messi fed substitute Erik Lamela, whose shot squirmed past Hernandez to cap the scoring.