Wednesday, July 24, 2024

SPORTS | 18-06-2024 13:06

Messi, Di María ready Argentina for Copa América clashes with Canada, Chile, Peru

Canada, Chile and Peru – the challengers facing Argentina in Group A of the first stage of the Copa América.

World champions Argentina enter this year’s Copa América in a strong position: they are both favourites to win this year’s tournament and the defending title-holders.

The Albiceleste are embarking upon a new Copa América crusade after their title-winning exploits in 2021 in Brazil, when they beat the hosts and began a glory-laden run that would end with the side conquering the world the following year in Qatar.

This year’s expanded tournament takes place in the United States, with CONMEBOL inviting the hosts and a number of other teams to increase the competition. 

Argentina, led by a rejuvenated Lionel Messi enjoying the sun in Miami, will kick off the 48th edition of the oldest national team tournament on the planet against Canada, a historic debutant in CONMEBOL's flagship event.

Atlanta will be the venue for Thursday’s clash. The first matchday will be completed a day later when Chile and Peru meet in Arlington, Texas.

Group A’s second matchday is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25, with Argentina taking on Chile in East Rutherford (New York) and Peru facing Canada in Kansas City (Kansas State).

The third and final matchday of Group A will be played on Saturday, June 29, with Argentina battling Peru in Miami and Canada challenging Chile in Orlando.

All the group’s teams will be mixing squads stuffed with new stars and veterans enjoying one last run. Chile and Peru, who were both absent from Qatar 2022 after failing to qualify, will be looking to a new generation to spark the fire with the World Cup in 2026 – which will be hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada – already beginning to loom on the horizon.

1. Argentina: Messi and Di María’s farewell

USA 2024 will be the last Copa América for one of the greatest players of all time. Seventh on the list of tournament appearances. Lionel Messi will turn 37 on Monday, June 24. The Inter Miami star’s presence at the 2026 World Cup is in the balance – this could be it for major tournaments.

Coach Lionel Scaloni has given clues in the qualifiers as to how to deal with that issue in the near future and Messi's inevitable absence in the future, which will also be compounded by the loss of Ángel Di María, who at 36 years of age will retire from international football after the Copa América.

A midfield triangle led by Alexis Mac Allister (age 25) with Giovani Lo Celso (28) and Nicolás González (26), with Julián Álvarez (24) as a false nine and Lautaro Martínez (26) in the penalty area, seems to be the formula that the coach will use in the future, once the two superstars have stepped aside.

For now, Messi is at full strength thanks to a good spell with Inter Miami and Di Maria is physically intact after finishing the season well with Benfica.

Faces to watch? Nineteen-year-old Alejandro Garnacho, Manchester United's eccentric winger, and Valentín Carboni, another 19-year-old attacker from Inter Milan who had a great season on-loan with Italy's Monza. The latter earned praise from Messi for his outstanding work in last Friday's friendly against Guatemala.

The rest of the squad is the foundation of the 2022 World Cup-winning side: experienced, gritty and resolute.


2. Chile: Old and annoying acquaintance

Chile won the Copa América as hosts in 2015, and a year later, at the Copa América Centenario edition in the United States, they lifted the trophy again.

Argentina knows how painful it is to lose to their arch-rivals – they lost both of those finals on penalties, defeats that allowed 'La Roja' to claim their only two titles as a senior team.

Both conquests were achieved at the hand of the so-called 'Golden Generation,' many of whom today resist passing the baton to the next national team stars. Alexis Sánchez (aged 35), goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (41), full-back Mauricio Isla (35) and striker Eduardo Vargas (34) will perhaps make their last appearances in this tournament before retiring. 

Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca has a number of younger stars who will hoping to make an impact: Striker Victor Dávila, 26, just completed his first season at CSKA Moscow; 20-year-old right winger Darío Osorio (Danish Midtjylland); and midfielder Marcelino Núñez, 24, a fierce forward who completed a second season at English Championship side Norwich City.


3. Peru: The usual suspects

Bottom with two points from six matches in the South American qualifying for the next World Cup in 2026, Peru are in their poorest moment for some time. After qualifying for the Russia 2018 World Cup, their first since Spain in 1982, everything has gone downhill.

Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, 71, took over the reins of 'La Blanquirroja' in 2024 with the challenge of pulling them out of their deep depression, but the players he can turn to are still the ones used by his predecessor Juan Reynost.

That's why the tireless 40-year-old striker Paolo Guerrero, the team's top scorer with 40 goals, continues to play. Gianluca Lapadula (age 34), goalkeeper Pedro Gallese (34), defenders Carlos Zambrano (34) and Luis Advíncula (33) and midfielder Christian Cueva (32), among others, have also been called up.

There are still young faces to watch: right-winger Joao Grimaldo, 21, a daring forward for Sporting Cristal, defender Oliver Sonne, 23, born in Denmark to a Peruvian mother and a right-back for Danish side Silkeborg IF, and midfielder Piero Quispe, 22, of Mexico's Pumas.


4. Canada: Question mark to be answered

Making their Copa América debut, Canada entered the USA 2024 edition through the back door by beating Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in a single match in a CONCACAF play-off.

The Canucks participated in the Qatar 2022 World Cup, losing to Belgium (1-0), Croatia (4-1) and Morocco (2-1) in the first round. Three setbacks – just like in their World Cup debut in Mexico 1986.

US coach Jesse Marsch, 50, has been Canada's gaffer since mid-May and the team's flag-bearer is versatile left-back Alphonso Davies (23), a Bayern Munich star and one of Real Madrid's transfer targets.

Faces to watch: Strikers Jonathan David (24) of Lille, Tajon Buchanan (25) of Inter Milan, Jacob Shaffelburg (24) of MLS side Nashville and Cyle Larin (29) of Mallorca.


More records for Messi?

Argentina’s record-breaking skipper Lionel Messi could add even more plaudits at the tournament in the United States.

  1. Most Copa América matches?
    The record for most games played at the Copa América is held by Chilean goalkeeper Sergio Livingstone and Messi, both with 34 appearances.  Messi has played in the past six editions of Conmebol's premier international tournament (Venezuela-2007, Argentina-2011, Chile-2015, Copa Centenario-United States-2016, Brazil-2019 and Brazil-2021). One more start will see Messi surpass Livingstone, consolidating his place as the most-capped player in Copa América history.

  2. All-time Copa América top scorer?
    Brazil's Zizinho and Argentina's Norberto Mendez share the top scorer record with 17 Copa América goals at apiece. Messi, with 13 so far, needs four goals to tie and five to set a new record. It’s a big ask, but achievable – at the Brazil-2021 edition he managed four goals.

  3. First to win back-to-back titles as captain?
    Since the introduction of the tournament's modern format, no captain has won the tournament in consecutive editions. If Argentina are crowned champions this year, Messi will become the first skipper to achieve this feat.



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