Argentina celebrated Lionel Messi’s 100th cap in ideal fashion by outclassing Jamaica for a 1-0 victory and top spot in their final group fixture.
All of the attention was on Messi in Vina del Mar on Saturday, as the Argentina captain brought up his international milestone.
But Gonzalo Higuain was the hero for the South Americans, with his 11th-minute strike the difference against the Copa America invitees, as Argentina sewed up top spot in Group B with seven points after defending champions Uruguay and Paraguay played out a 1-1 draw earlier in the day.
Gerardo Martino – watching from the stands after receiving a one-match ban for stepping on the field against Uruguay – rested Argentina regulars Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi and drafted in Higuain and Martin Demichelis.
Jamaica made three changes to their line-up after losing to Paraguay midweek, with Dwayne Miller, Lance Laing and Deshorn Brown replacing Dwayne Kerr, Giles Barnes and Simon Dawkins.
Higuain was a constant threat early and he made the most of his start up front with a strike in the 11th minute – his first international goal since October last year.
Angel di Maria rolled the ball into the penalty area and Higuain held off two defenders before turning and shooting low into the corner of the net to end a run of seven matches without a goal for Argentina.
Higuain almost doubled his tally with a looped effort over the onrushing Miller in the 22nd minute, having been played in by Lucas Biglia, but the Napoli striker’s shot bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Jamaica struggled to make it out of their own half for much of the first 45 minutes – with Argentina controlling 82 per cent of possession – but they somehow made it to the interval only trailing 1-0, despite chances to centurion Messi and Higuain, while Di Maria was denied by a goal-line clearance and Miller.
The crossbar came to Jamaica’s rescue again seven minutes in the second half, after Di Maria rattled the woodwork from the edge of the area, with Miller left watching cluelessly.
Di Maria was in the thick of the action shortly after, teeing up Higuain, who passed the ball to Roberto Pereyra but the substitute scuffed his shot wide.
Jamaica, surprisingly, finished the stronger of the two teams but were unable to breach Argentina’s defence as they exited the tournament without a point and a goal.
But in bad news for Martino’s men, Pablo Zabaleta was shown a late yellow card and will miss their quarter-final.