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Messi takes center stage again for Copa America

Published : Thursday, 20 June, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 268

Messi takes center stage again for Copa America

Messi takes center stage again for Copa America

ATLANTA, JUNE 19: World champions Argentina get an expanded Copa America under way on Thursday with Lionel Messi looking to add a second continental title in what is almost certainly his final appearance in the tournament.

The 108-year-old competition is being held in the United States with the host nation among six teams from the CONCACAF region joining the 10 South American nations looking for a place in the July 14 final in Miami.

While FIFA will be looking closely at the organization of the event, two years out from the World Cup which will be co-hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, the tournaments rich history and prestige means it is much, much more than a rial event.

Argentina have won the Copa 15 times but only once, in 2021, during the Messi era and coach Lionel Scaloni has stuck largely with his World Cup-winning squad, with veterans Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi likely taking their final bow in a major tournament.

Whether this is Messis goodbye to elite international football remains to be seen - the eight-times Ballon dOr winner, now playing in Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, will turn 37 four days after Thursdays opener in Atlanta against Canada and has yet to decide whether he will try to play in a record sixth World Cup.

"Its great to have records and continue to achieve things but I won take part in a World Cup just to say Ive done six," Messi told ESPN last week.

"If I feel good and everything is in place for me to be there, fine, but I won go just to go. Its very difficult to imagine what can happen because its still two years away. I don need to commit right now to whether or not Ill be there," he added.

What is certain is that Messi, who has managed his workload to try to be in peak condition for the tournament, would relish the chance to win a third straight major tournament with his country after so many years of frustration with his national team.

After facing Canada, Argentina take on Chile in New Jersey before finishing their group A action against Peru in Miami but they know that tough opposition awaits in the knock-out stage with rivals Brazil and Uruguay the two expected challengers for the title.

Brazil have struggled in CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup having won just two of their opening six games and they currently sit in sixth place in the standings having lost to Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina.

There are several familiar names missing from Dorival Juniors Brazil squad  with Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus and Thiago Silva left out while Richarlison and Neymar are both missing due to injury.

The pressure will be on the Real Madrid attacking pair of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo to translate their club form into success for the Selecao while there is much excitement around the senior tournament debut of 17-year-old talent Endrick, who is set to join Real next month from Palmeiras.

Uruguay, also 15-times winners, have impressed under their 68-year-old Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa, who has brought his trademark high-energy style to the team and raised expectations with recent wins over Argentina and Brazil.

Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez will lead the line although Bielsa has the option of introducing veteran Luis Suarez from the bench.    —AFP

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