Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made three shootout saves to beat Colombia 3-2 on penalties and book a Copa America final with Brazil.
With just seven minutes on the clock, Messi earned his fifth assist in the tournament with a pass to Lautaro Martinez, who put the ball in the right corner past Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.
A more aggressive Colombia, led by Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, hit the bar and the post in the first half before they levelled in the 61st minute with Luis Diaz, who received the ball on the left of Argentina’s box and shot almost with no angle to beat Emiliano Martinez.
Argentina reacted after 67 minutes when Angel di Maria came into the match, replacing Nico Gonzalez. The winger created several opportunities, including one in the 80th minute that ended with Davinson Sanchez preventing a finish by Lautaro Martinez on the goal line.
The last big opportunity in regular time came with Messi hitting Ospina’s right post in the 81st minute from short range, with the game finishing 1-1.
Martinez saved shots taken by Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona in the shootout. Messi converted his opportunity from the spot and was one of the most joyous players in the celebrations – now seeking his first major title with Argentina against favourites Brazil.
Rodrigo de Paul missed his shot, but Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez netted their chances for Argentina in the shootout. Cuadrado and Miguel Borja scored from the spot for Colombia.
Argentina haven’t won a major title since 1993 when they clinched the Copa America. On that occasion, the team eliminated Colombia on penalties 6-5 in the semi-final after a goalless draw.
Brazil beat Peru 1-0 on Monday to advance to the final. They have never lost a Copa America final at home and won five out of six matches so far.
Argentina will now face Brazil on Saturday at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, while Colombia will play on Friday in the third-place play-off against Peru.