2019 COPA Preview: Messi looks to lead Argentina to elusive Gold Cup title

By Donald Oilver May 24, 2019

Argentina and Colombia favourites to advance from Group B.

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  • Argentina 0 Colombia 2: Martinez, Zapata inflict Copa pain on Messi's men Argentina 0 Colombia 2: Martinez, Zapata inflict Copa pain on Messi's men

    Colombia heaped misery on Lionel Messi and Argentina with a 2-0 victory in their Copa America opener on Saturday.

    Runners-up in 2015 and 2016, Messi's Argentina were looking to banish their past demons in pursuit of a first major international title since 1993.

    However, Argentina were upstaged by Colombia, who made a winning start in Group B thanks to Roger Martinez's 71st-minute stunner and Duvan Zapata's late sealer.

    As Argentina pressed and probed, first-half substitute Martinez sent a thunderous strike past Franco Armani in Salvador and Zapata made sure of the win during the closing stages.

    Argentina came into the tournament off a 5-1 rout of Nicaragua and with the most Copa victories in history (119) but the South American giants did not look like winning against Colombia.

    Martinez – a replacement for Luis Muriel in the 14th minute – linked up with Radamel Falcao but his shot deflected just wide of the post as Colombia appeared the more likely to strike first.

    Overall, it was a forgettable opening 45 minutes, which did not see a single shot on target from either team, with Messi subdued.

    It was more of the same in the second half, though Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina was finally called into action after a vicious volley from Leandro Paredes approaching the hour mark.

    The match did come to life moments later when Juan Cuadrado's tackle on Messi threatened to spark a melee as Argentina players rushed in to confront the Colombia winger.

    That triggered Argentina, who almost took the lead after Nicolas Otamendi's powerful header forced Ospina into a low diving save, while Messi was unable to head home the rebound with the goal at his mercy.

    But Colombia broke the deadlock with 19 minutes remaining – Martinez collecting the ball on the flank and drifting inside before beating Armani from distance – and fellow substitute Zapata doubled the lead four minutes from the end courtesy of an emphatic close-range finish.

    What does it mean? Long road ahead for Scaloni

    In the build-up to the match, head coach Lionel Scaloni joked he would retire if Argentina win the Copa America. Scaloni does not appear any closer to retirement based on Saturday's result and performance. After last year's World Cup last-16 exit and Messi's brief international absence, the South American giants have a lot of work ahead.

    Martinez makes himself a hero

    When Muriel went down with an injury early in the first half, Carlos Queiroz turned to Martinez. And as Falcao struggled to make an impact on proceedings, 24-year-old America forward Martinez emerged a hero with his first international goal since 2016.

    Pressure builds on Messi and Co.

    The weight of a nation falls on Messi's shoulders and the captain was helpless to prevent another poor result on the international stage. Still searching for his first senior title with Argentina, Messi was relatively subdued in the team's first game.

    What's next?

    Argentina meet Paraguay on Wednesday, while Colombia face guests and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.

  • Richarlison encourages Neres to make Everton move Richarlison encourages Neres to make Everton move

    Richarlison has told Brazil team-mate and Ajax star David Neres to join him at Everton.

    Eredivisie champions Ajax face a fight to keep hold of winger Neres, 22, after an excellent season won him admirers across Europe.

    Neres scored crucial Champions League goals against Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the semi-finals and is reportedly on Arsenal's transfer radar.

    Everton, however, are believed to be the frontrunners for his signature and Richarlison wants his compatriot to make the move to Goodison Park.

    "I've spoken to him about it already," Richarlison told the Liverpool Echo in the aftermath of Brazil's win over Bolivia at the Copa America, in which both players started.

    "I told him the doors are open for him there, and that he could help us a lot.

    "I hope he comes. He'd be very welcome there. I've known him since we played together for Brazil Under-20 side, and he's a guy I get along with really well.

    "Hopefully I'll see him there."

    With 23 domestic goals in the past two campaigns, Neres appears to have outgrown the Eredivisie and could be ready for a dream switch to England.

    He said: "Of course the Premier League interests me. It's the best league in the world, and I've always wanted to play there.

    "But I leave all that in God's hands."

  • Venezuela 0 Peru 0: Points shared despite late Mago dismissal Venezuela 0 Peru 0: Points shared despite late Mago dismissal

    Venezuela held on with 10 men to secure a 0-0 draw against Peru in a largely lacklustre Copa America encounter in Porto Alegre on Saturday.

    Luis Mago's 75th-minute dismissal for a second bookable offence gave Peru hope of snatching all three points but a stalemate always seemed the likely conclusion between two evenly matched teams.

    Ricardo Gareca's side did have the ball in the net on two occasions, only for offside decisions to deny Christofer Gonzales and Jefferson Farfan either side of half-time.

    Both teams now move a point ahead of Bolivia, who lost 3-0 to Brazil in the tournament opener.

    Peru appeared to have an early opener when midfielder Gonzales buried a loose ball, but a VAR review showed Renato Tapia to have been offside as he challenged Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.

    Christian Cueva and Salomon Rondon failed to take good chances either side of the 20-minute mark, while a poor Farinez punch forced Tomas Rincon to make a crucial block towards the end of a first half blighted by stoppages.

    More fluent passages of play after the interval brought only wayward finishing until Peru forward Farfan nodded in Edison Flores' left-sided cross.

    The latter had strayed offside before delivering the cross, however, and there was to be no winner even after Mago's second yellow card, with Farinez redeeming his earlier efforts by making a fine close-range save from lively substitute Flores.

     

    What does it mean? More possible from Peru

    Having reached the quarter-finals at the Centenario edition in 2016, and as a team that has spent 12 months building on a World Cup appearance, Peru will be especially disappointed not to have taken all three points.

    Their level of performance will need to improve if they are to challenge the big nations at this tournament.

    Advincula an important outlet for Peru

    Venezuela's left side struggled with the mighty task of stopping Peru's barnstorming right-back Luis Advincula, whose pace and positivity gave his team a constant attacking option out wide.

    Farinez fortunate to avoid first-half punishment

    He did well in the end to earn a clean sheet by denying Flores but other teams in the tournament are sure to bombard Venezuela keeper Farinez with aerial balls after his unconvincing attempts at claiming crosses in the first half almost led to two Peru goals.

    What's next?

    Venezuela face hosts Brazil in Bahia on Tuesday as Peru head to Rio de Janeiro to meet Bolivia.

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