Argentina v Canada: Messi braced for tough Copa America title defence despite favourites tag

By Sports Desk June 19, 2024

Argentina are preparing to defend their Copa America title, but Lionel Messi is staying realistic ahead of their opening match against Canada on Thursday.

The Albiceleste beat Brazil 1-0 in the final in 2021 to win the title for the first time since 1993 before going on to lift the World Cup just over a year later.

Since their victory over France in December 2022, Argentina have remained in strong form, losing just one of their 14 matches in all competitions and winning the other 13.

Messi, who will become the Copa America's all-time record appearance-maker when he next features in the tournament, says he expects to face a tough challenge to retain the trophy.

"Argentina are always favourites," Messi said. "I think it is going to be a very eventful tournament because national teams are becoming better and better.

"Today we are the best because we won the World Cup, but the Copa America is going to be difficult.

"It will be even, and our team is aware that we are going to have to continue doing the same and more to win again.

"We are going to try to win the Copa America again but let's remember that not everything is about winning."

Meanwhile, Canada are making their first appearance at the Copa America after qualifying through the playoffs with a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

They failed to get out of the group stage on their return to the world stage in Qatar two years ago, but now under new coach Jesse Marsch they are looking to make an impression before co-hosting the World Cup in 2026.

Canada had an encouraging 0-0 draw against France in their last warm-up match and will hope a squad containing Alphonso Davies, Stephen Eustaquio and Jonathan David can be competitive in a Group A that also contains Chile and Peru.

Tests do not come much tougher than the reigning champions, but Marsch is confident they have a plan to deal with the danger Argentina, and Messi, pose.

"We're excited for this tournament, we know it's a big challenge," said Marsch. "It won't be a shock to us when we encounter the quality and the level of play with Argentina.

"We'll be preparing heavily for everything that Argentina will do and prepare for what they present. Certainly, Messi is still a massive part of their team and who they are."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Who else?

His next appearance in the Copa America will be his 35th, overtaking Chile great Sergio Livingstone, and he has scored 13 goals for Argentina in the competition along the way.

He has also provided nine Copa assists and has had more shots than any other player at the tournament since the start of the 2011 edition (102).

Canada – Cyle Larin

Larin is Canada's all-time top scorer, netting 29 times for his country in 68 appearances including a key strike in the win over Trinidad and Tobago.

Despite struggling for goals in LaLiga with Real Mallorca in 2023-24, netting just seven times in all competitions, Larin will be looking to further improve his international record at the tournament, with Lille's David (26) fast closing in on his tally.

MATCH PREDICTION: ARGENTINA WIN

Unsurprisingly, Argentina are the overwhelming favourites to start their title defence with a win and they go in with a 74.3% chance of finishing the game with three points.

Canada, meanwhile, are given just an 11% chance of claiming an upset in their Copa America debut, with the draw slightly more likely at 14.7%.

The Albiceleste have only lost once since the start of 2023, and in that run of 14 matches, they have conceded just four goals and impressively kept 11 clean sheets.

Canada failed to score in either of their warm-up friendlies against the Netherlands (4-0) and France (0-0) in the build-up to the tournament, last hitting the back of the net in March.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Argentina – 74.3%

Draw – 14.7%

Canada – 11%

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