Messi makes history at Copa America with record-breaking 148th Argentina cap

By Sports Desk June 28, 2021

Lionel Messi has made history with Argentina, becoming the country's all-time record appearances holder in the Copa America clash against Bolivia.

Messi was named in the starting line-up for Argentina's final Group A fixture on Monday, surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano with his 148th international cap.

Argentina captain Messi is still chasing an elusive major honour in international colours, a fact somewhat at odds with his gloriously decorated career at LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona.

Nevertheless, as he represents La Albiceleste for the 148th time, the 34-year-old should also reflect upon a brilliant body of work, where he has typically set new standards – most notably standing as Argentina's all-time record goalscorer with 73.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at Messi's Argentina career in numbers.

 

CONMEBOL'S SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

In the eternal argument between fans of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal superstar's international record is sometimes held up as a point of difference.

Ronaldo pulled level with Ali Daei's all-time record of 109 goals for his country during the reigning European champions' 2-2 draw with France at Euro 2020 last week.

But there are a collection of "gimme" opponents afforded to Ronaldo within the European qualifiers that Messi simply does not enjoy.

The arduous CONMEBOL World Cup qualification marathon means plenty of his Argentina caps have arrived against high-quality opposition.

The highest proportion of his caps have come in South American World Cup qualifiers, where he has featured 50 times. This is set against 30 Copa outings, 19 appearances at the World Cup and 47 caps in international friendlies.

 

HIGH FIVES, BRILLIANT TREBLES

Argentina's bitter rivals Brazil, Paraguay and their 2015 and 2016 Copa America final tormentors Chile have faced up to Messi more than any other nation.

He has played them all 11 times, scoring five goals versus each. Against Bolivia, he will be aiming to improve upon a record of three goals from nine outings, with La Paz's sapping altitude pleasingly not a factor for Messi on this occasion.

Three of those strikes versus Brazil came in one sparkling 4-3 friendly win at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium in 2012.

Overall, he has six international hat-tricks and none more telling than the sensational salvo to secure a 3-1 win away to Ecuador that virtually single-handedly dragged Argentina to Russia 2018.

 

NIGHTMARE START AND OTHER MILESTONES

Messi's extended run at the summit of world football was not so easy to predict when he marked his Argentina debut from the bench against Hungary in Budapest in 2005 with a red card almost immediately after coming on.

His first goal came against Croatia in Basel on cap number six, while the otherwise forgettable 2010 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Germany in Cape Town was Messi's 50th cap.

Cap 100 came against guest participants Jamaica in the 2015 Copa America, a campaign that ended in now familiar disappointment.

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  • Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja

    Lionel Messi expects a difficult test against Chile as Argentina look to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. 

    Argentina play their penultimate Group A match at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Wednesday against La Roja, having beaten Canada on matchday 1. 

    The Albiceleste impressed in their opener against the Canucks, registering 19 shots on goal, surpassing the combined total of 18 shots taken by Chile and Peru in the other Group A meeting.

    Messi, who broke the Copa America appearance record during that match, expressed the importance of their victory in the opening game but knows his side are in for a competitive encounter with Ricardo Gareca's side. 

    “Yeah, we've always known how tough the opening game is. The most important thing is to get off to a winning start," Messi said. 

    “It's not happened previously under [Lionel] Scaloni, so that calms things down because you suffer a lot when you start off losing.

    “But we always play the same way. We're in a difficult group, and now we have to face a very good and competitive team.

    “Ricardo Gareca's arrival has given them something else as well.

    “So yeah, we're happy to have started with a win, but we're now going to rest and prepare for Chile.

    “We know that we have to be a team and achieve our goals in the right way.

    “We know that the only path to do so is in our own way. So we will continue with the same humility and desire to win.”

    Meanwhile, Chile will be hopeful of improving their recent record against Argentina, having failed to beat their opponents since the Copa America final in June 2016, though they needed penalties to get the victory on that occasion.

    La Roja kickstarted their Copa America campaign with a goalless draw against Peru at the AT&T Stadium in Texas, managing to register just one shot on target from the 11 they attempted - the joint-fewest the Blanquirroja have faced in the competition since the debut of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese in the competition (2015).

    Gareca's side have failed to score in their last three games in the Copa America, a run of 378 minutes without a goal.

    However, the 66-year-old believes their lack of threat in front of goal is not an issue ahead of their showdown with the Albiceleste. 

    "We were not able to create many plays and execute them. We were under a lot of pressure, and sometimes we were not accurate in our passes," said Gareca, who became the 10th coach to have managed different teams in consecutive editions of the competition.

    "I'm not concerned. I think this will be useful for us to analyse our game to improve our game.

    "We, of course, hoped to win the match. But I think it's very important that we're able to take a point, and we still have two matches ahead of us."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Chile - Victor Davila

    Victor Davila will be hoping to rediscover the goal-scoring touch he experienced before the Copa America ahead of coming up against the World Cup champions. 

    Having scored three goals and provided one assist in his previous three international appearances heading into their opener against Peru, the CSKA Moscow striker showed glimpses of his attacking threat. 

    The 26-year-old has the joint-most shots (three) and the most touches in the opposition box (five), but failed to register a shot on target, coming off in the 65th minute with an expected goals (xG) total of 0.22. 

    Argentina - Lionel Messi 

    Messi has played in 35 out of 36 matches for Argentina in the Copa America since his debut. The only match he missed was a 2-1 group stage victory against Tuesday's opponents in 2016.

    The Inter Miami star registered an assist for Lautaro Martinez's late goal, reaching 50 direct goal involvements in official competitions for club and country on U.S. soil (30 goals and 20 assists).

    However, Messi will be hoping to add to his 108 international goals at the MetLife Stadium. Should he score, it would take his Copa America tally to 14, level with Chile's Eduardo Vargas and Peru's Paolo Guerrero, three away from equalling Norberto Mendez's record (17). 

     

    MATCH PREDICTION: ARGENTINA WIN 

    The Opta supercomputer is heavily backing Argentina to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. They won 66.5% of the pre-match simulations, while Chile won just 15.1%. 

    Argentina come up against a familiar foe in Chile at the tournament, with this their 30th meeting at the Copa America. La Roja are the third-most frequent opponent for Lionel Scaloni's side, behind only Brazil (34) and Uruguay (32).

    La Albiceleste remain unbeaten against Chile in these encounters (21 wins, eight draws). However, La Roja clinched their two titles by defeating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the 2015 and 2016 finals.

    Since 2011, Argentina have the fewest losses (two) among teams that have played in more than one Copa America edition. La Albiceleste also boasts the most victories in the tournament during this period (18).

    Chile, however, will be looking to upset the odds. La Roja are looking for their first win in games between the two teams since June 2016. During that time, Argentina have outscored the Chilean side 7-4, something that will need to change to increase their chances of progression. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Chile - 15.1%

    Argentina - 66.5%

    Draw - 18.4%

  • Pulisic says USA were 'flying' against Bolivia after inspirational display Pulisic says USA were 'flying' against Bolivia after inspirational display

    Christian Pulisic felt the United States made a flying start to the Copa America with their impressive victory over Bolivia in Texas.

    Milan star Pulisic stole the show with an eye-catching strike into the top corner, and he added an assist for Folarin Balogun as the USA opened their campaign with a 2-0 win on home soil on Sunday.

    Pulisic became only the second USA player after Clint Dempsey to register a goal and an assist in a Copa America match, while he is also now the country's quickest player to reach 30 goals, doing so in his 69th game.

    An inspired performance from the captain also ended a woeful run for the USA against CONMEBOL sides at this tournament, given Gregg Berhalter's side had previously lost eight of 10 such games.

    Pulisic felt that USA could easily have won by a greater margin, with the strong performance making a statement ahead of their next group games against Panama and Uruguay.

    "We should build some confidence from this and feel good," Pulisic said after the game.

    "We came out flying with a lot of intensity and obviously that early goal helped us a lot.

    "It's Copa America, it's a big tournament. I feel like I'm always pretty excited after I score, but it's a big moment, it's a major tournament.

    "All around, it was a pretty dominant performance. I think we could have put it away and had more goals there.

    "The games are just going to get tougher and tougher as the tournament goes on, so we have got to be ready." 

    Defender Antonee Robinson also felt USA could easily have won by more.

    "If we were being picky, we could have been a lot more clinical," the Fulham player said. "We could have put another two or three goals away, but getting off to a win to start with is massive for us.

    "Build the confidence, show we are here to win, here to play and it puts us in good stead for the next game."

    USA head coach Berhalter was delighted with the impact made by Pulisic, whose opening strike had an expected goals (xG) tally of just 0.037.

    The tournament hosts racked up 20 shots, finding the target with eight, compared to tallies of six and three respectively for Bolivia.

    As part of an all-action display, Pulisic created three chances, sent in 10 crosses and superbly completed 21 of the game-high 22 passes he attempted in the final third.

    "He is a selfless leader," said Berhalter. "He goes out and competes and works really hard. That helps the team.

    "Then you add to the fact that he is highly skilled and can make plays on the offensive end and create chances. It is a great combination, and what you see is him supporting his teammates, him backing guys, him pushing guys. 

    "To me, it was an outstanding performance. He got coach's man of the match and it was much deserved.

    "We will always look at chance creation as a marker of performance, and I think we created enough chances. 

    "I like the performance for an opening game against a difficult opponent. We are in a good position."

    Bolivia, meanwhile, have now lost their last four international outings by a concerning margin of 9-1, having suffered defeats against Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and USA.

    They face Uruguay, who won their opener 3-1 against Panama, on Thursday.

    USA will play Panama earlier on the same day before concluding their Group C campaign against Uruguay on July 1.

  • United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener United States 2-0 Bolivia: Pulisic powers hosts to convincing win in Copa America opener

    Christian Pulisic stole the show with an eye-catching strike and another assist as the United States opened their Copa America campaign with a 2-0 triumph over Bolivia on Sunday.

    Gregg Berhalter's side never appeared troubled in a routine victory at AT&T Stadium in Texas, thanks to the solo endeavours of captain Pulisic in their Group C opener.

    The Milan forward needed just three minutes to curl in a sublime opener before teeing up Folarin Balogun – who another strike ruled out after the interval – just moments before the break in a one-sided first half.

    Bolivia rarely seemed likely to forge a comeback as the USA managed a winning start to a Copa campaign for the first time since the 1995 edition when they defeated Chile 2-1 in Uruguay.

    Antonio Carlos Zago's side did not heed an early warning when goalkeeper Guillermo Viscarra was forced to rush out and clear in front of Balogun.

    Bolivia were caught napping just minutes later as Timothy Weah worked a short corner with Pulisic, who coasted inside before curling into the top-right corner from an acute angle on the left-hand side of the area.

    Weah – son of legendary forward George – was denied from point-blank range as the USA almost doubled their lead immediately.

    Yet Berhalter's host nation would soon add to their advantage in Arlington.

    Pulisic was afforded the freedom of midfield yet again, dropping into space before offloading for Balogun to cannon a left-footed drive into the bottom-right corner.

    That smart 44th-minute finish marked Balogun's first-ever goal at this tournament and the Monaco striker found the back of the net for a second time after the interval, only for his celebrations to be cut short.

    His routine tap-in from inside the six-yard area was ruled out for offside as Weah had rushed forward to capitalise on Weston McKennie's pass before sliding across for his attacking partner.

    Viscarra was equal to Pulisic's effort before the hour as the forward attempt to recreate his early heroics, while substitute Ricardo Pepi prodded wide from Antonee Robinson's pinpoint left-wing delivery.

    Pepi was denied by fine Viscarra reflexes late on as the USA coasted to an opening victory before their next meeting with Panama on Thursday, a day before Bolivia face Uruguay.

    Pulisic stars in rare USA win

    Pulisic was tipped by many as the USA player to keep an eye on at the Copa America, and the Milan man delivered in emphatic fashion in this opener.

    Fresh off the back of scoring 15 goals across all competitions for the Serie A giants, Pulisic's opening strike had an expected goals (xG) tally of just 0.037 – yet that was no problem for the USA captain.

    His headline-worthy effort halted a woeful run for the USA against CONMEBOL sides at this tournament as well given Berhalter's side had previously lost eight of 10 such games.

    Victory also marked the USA's first Copa triumph over Bolivia in just their second attempt, avenging for a 1-0 defeat way back in 1995 when Marco Etcheverry scored the winner.

    Bolivia wait goes on

    Bolivia were seeking a win against a CONCACAF opponent in Copa action for the first time since the 1997 edition.

    They defeated Mexico 3-1 in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted 27 years ago, though a wait for another such victory must continue after a drab showing in Texas.

    Carlos Zago won this competition as a player with Brazil in 1999 but his side have a long way to go if they are to even escape their group in the USA.

    Bolivia have now lost their last four international outings by a concerning margin of 9-1, having suffered defeats against Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and the USA.

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