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Copa America

More Copa America records go Messi’s way as Argentina pick up where they left off

Argentina picked up where they left off in the Copa America, with the holders kick-starting their title defence with a strong 2-0 victory over Canada.

The world champions, and Opta supercomputer Copa favourites, are expected to progress with ease from Group A, and they made an ideal start in Atlanta on Thursday.

Julián Álvarez and Lautaro Martínez got the goals, but it was of course Lionel Messi who was the main focus.

Messi became the record appearance maker in the 108-year history of the Copa America, overtaking Chile great Sergio Livingstone by featuring in his 35th match at the tournament.

The 36-year-old’s superb tournament record stands at 22 wins, 10 draws and three losses. And he has one Copa title – a total he hopes will increase with another trophy on 14 July.

And while he could not get on the scoresheet, Messi, despite playing on a choppy pitch that has drawn the ire of Argentina, was as influential as ever for La Albiceleste.

He will probably lament some unusually profligate finishing – at least by his high standards – as the reason why he didn’t mark his record-setting appearance with a 14th Copa America goal (he is, as it stands, four off the all-time leading goalscorers in the competition, Norberto Mendez and Zizinho).

Messi had a game-leading six shots, getting three of them on target, with those attempts accumulating an expected goals (xG) value of 0.79 – a total bettered by only his teammate Martinez (0.8).

The Inter Miami star led the match for touches in the opponent’s box (nine), and big chances (two) in an all-action display.

Lionel Messi touch map vs Canada - Copa America

Canada’s goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, who like Messi plays in MLS, was also on form, making six saves.

But what Messi lacked in his finishing, he made up for in creativity.

His total of five chances created led the match, and was at least two clear of any other player on the pitch. He was nine ahead of next-best Rodrigo de Paul for passes in the final third, with 27, and attempted six dribbles, albeit only completing one of them.

It was Messi’s pass that released Alexis Mac Allister, who was then wiped out by Crépeau only for Álvarez to tuck home Argentina’s 49th-minute opener.

And it was Messi who put through substitute Martínez to round off the victory late on.

That was Messi’s 17th assist at the Copa America, with his first assist in the competition coming in 2011.

Lionel Messi pass map vs Canada - Copa America

Since then, he has registered over three times as many assists as any other player in the competition, with Ángel Di Maria and Alexis Sánchez ranking second on five each.

It also saw Messi reach 50 direct goal involvements in official competitions for club and country on US soil (30 goals + 20 assists).

His figure of seven line-breaking passes, meanwhile, was more than double that of any other player in Thursday’s match.

Argentina can reasonably reflect that they should have scored more, an ominous sign for their upcoming opponents. They had nine Opta-defined ‘big chances’ against Canada, the most for La Albiceleste in a single game since 2013, and accumulated 2.85 xG.

Messi was at the heart of it all, but it was not a case of him having to do it all on his own.

De Paul was impressive in midfield, while in Álvarez and Martínez, Messi has an excellent supporting cast for this year’s competition.

At 24 years and 142 days old, Álvarez is the youngest player to score in both the World Cup and the Copa America since José Giménez did so for Uruguay in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Martínez, meanwhile, has scored in four of the last five matches he has played in the Copa America, striking in this match against Canada to follow up goals against Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia in 2021. The only exception in that run was the final in 2021 against Brazil.

The Inter striker might have to settle for a back-up role at this tournament, but it’s now three goals in his last two matches for his country, and he could be a contender for the Golden Boot.

Argentina should be confident of a deep run. They should really go all the way.

They are the best team in the world, after all, and Lionel Scaloni has, by some distance, the best squad in the competition at his disposal, what with Brazil missing stalwarts Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, as well as their talisman Neymar, even if Vinícius Júnior is an excellent alternative.

That being said, this is the first time under their coach that Argentina have won their opening match of a major tournament, having slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Colombia in the 2019 Copa America, drawing 1-1 with Chile in the same competition two years later, and then losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia at the 2022 World Cup.

This time, they have got off on the right foot. Upcoming matches against Chile and Peru should not prove tough hurdles to navigate, especially not with Messi already clicking through the gears.

Credit: TheAnalyst

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