Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni voiced concerns about the physical condition of his players while highlighting the importance of Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Papu Gomez was the hero for Argentina, with his 10th-minute goal sealing a 1-0 win over Paraguay on Monday and a spot in the last eight of the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

There was no rest for superstar captain Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's record for most Argentina appearances with his 147th cap, despite Scaloni's men backing up from Friday's success against Uruguay.

Messi has not missed a minute of Argentina's three Group A games so far, amassing 74 touches against Paraguay while winning 75 per cent of a team-high 16 duels.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had the most shots (three) and shots on target (two) among his team-mates as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches, dating back to 2019.

"The reality is that Messi has been playing every game and it is very difficult not to count on him, even though he is tired he continues to make the difference," said Scaloni, who introduced the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero into the starting XI.

"Today we made several changes and despite that we were able to take all three points."

Without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina snapped a four-game winless drought against Paraguay in Brasilia.

Argentina ended the contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession.

"What worries me is the physical condition of the players because we came from playing three days ago and today the conditions were not the best, so we had to rotate players," Scaloni told reporters.

"The first half we played very well and in the second, due to the merit of Paraguay and their good physical condition, as a result of many days off, they had more control of the game. The team showed a good image in the first half, but there are always things to keep improving."

"The beauty of all this is the process," Lionel Scaloni said post-game.

Sixteen games unbeaten and through to the Copa America quarter-finals for the 14th consecutive CONMEBOL tournament.

Papu Gomez's delightful 10th-minute effort over onrushing Antony Silva extended Argentina's undefeated streak, while snapping a four-match winless drought against Paraguay on Monday.

Add seven clean sheets during an unbeaten run, dating back to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, and it sounds wonderful for La Albiceleste in pursuit of a first major title since 1993.

This is not your usual Argentina, despite boasting a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner – Lionel Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's appearance record with his 147th cap – hellbent on claiming an elusive international trophy.

Aside from Gomez's delicate finish, there was not much to write home about. After a promising opening half, Argentina faded. A growing theme under head coach Scaloni.

Argentina ended the Group A contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession. Fortunately for Scaloni's side, La Albirroja did not manage a shot on target.

At a time when Argentina was reeling following another early and unsuccessful World Cup campaign, ousted in the round of 16 at Russia 2018, Scaloni stepped into a hot seat so few were willing to take on.

The seven-time Argentina international provided stability when superstar captain Messi initially retired. Scaloni oversaw a run to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals – La Albiceleste settled for third.

Fast forward to this year and even amid a lengthy undefeated streak, there are growing questions over Scaloni, the style of football and Argentina's ability to put an end to 28 years of anguish.

While the football might not be so easy on the eye, it's the results that matter at the moment as Argentina build towards dethroning South American rivals Brazil on their own turf.

Argentina qualified for the Copa America quarter-finals after ending their drought against Paraguay with a 1-0 victory.

Not since the 2015 Copa had Argentina tasted a win over Paraguay – a run of four consecutive matches – but La Albiceleste snapped that winless streak thanks to Papu Gomez on Monday.

Gomez scored the winner in the 10th minute, scooping an effort over onrushing Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva, for his second goal from just his sixth international appearance.

As Lionel Messi equalled the record for most Argentina appearances, Lionel Scaloni's men extended their winning streak to 16 games in Brasilia.

Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero were named in the starting XI for the first time during this year's Copa, and the veteran Argentina pair were heavily involved early.

Aguero had a great chance to put Argentina ahead in the seventh minute after some woeful defending saw the ball fall to his feet inside the six-yard box, however, the Barcelona recruit's reactive effort went just over the crossbar.

Argentina did break the deadlock three minutes later via Gomez, who beat the offside trap and finished delicately over Silva after Di Maria cut a ball perfectly to the Sevilla star.

Paraguay ended the half with more possession – 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent – as Argentina dropped off after scoring the opening goal.

Argentina did find the back of the net for a second time on the stroke of half-time, wheeling away in celebration after Gomez's cross was inadvertently put into his own net by Paraguay defender Junior Alonso but it was ruled offside.

There was a promising spell of sustained pressure from Paraguay, who had not lost to Argentina in six years, to start the second half.

Paraguay continued to dictate proceedings without creating anything meaningful as Argentina booked their spot in the knockout phase in pursuit of a first major title since winning the 1993 Copa America.

 

What does it mean? Argentina roll on

Argentina are a tough team to beat at the moment. Not since the 2019 Copa America have La Albiceleste tasted defeat – a run of 16 consecutive matches without a loss. They have kept seven clean sheets during that run.

Messi milestone

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner celebrated another milestone on Monday, equalling Javier Mascherano for the most senior Argentina appearances – 147. Messi is already the country's all-time leading scorer (73).

Toothless Paraguay

Paraguay enjoyed more possession and a better passing accuracy, but it did not translate to anything meaningful up front. Eduardo Berizzo's side ended the contest without a shot on target.

What's next?

Argentina will conclude their Group A campaign against winless Bolivia in Cuiaba on Monday, while Paraguay meet Uruguay on the same day.

Argentina know they will advance to the knockout stage of the Copa America if they end a four-game winless run in their rivalry with Paraguay on Monday.

La Albiceleste have not beaten Paraguay in six years, although three of the four games in the meantime have ended all square.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has been frustrated by the frequency with which his side have been held.

The team are unbeaten in 15 games going back to the 2019 Copa America, but they have won only eight of those matches alongside seven draws – including a home World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

A sequence of three stalemates in a row was broken last time out, though, when Argentina defeated Uruguay 1-0 to move level with Chile at the top of Group A.

"I think that the previous games Argentina also deserved to win," Scaloni said following the Uruguay match.

"For small reasons, we were left with three draws that we did not deserve."

Paraguay could leapfrog Argentina and move into position for a potentially easier quarter-final draw with a repeat of their World Cup qualifying win, although Lionel Messi was absent on that occasion in 2016 and should be present for this game.

Eduardo Berizzo's men won their Copa America opener 3-1 against basement side Bolivia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lautaro Martinez

Martinez scored with 13.6 per cent of his shots for Inter in 2020-21, but he has so far yet to hit the target let alone the net from four chances worth a combined 0.8 expected goals at the Copa America. There were a couple of particularly disappointing misses against Chile, as Martinez was substituted when Argentina needed a goal, while he lasted just 52 minutes against Uruguay. He needs to take his chance.

 

Paraguay – Miguel Almiron

A Premier League regular, Almiron is the biggest name in the Paraguay squad. However, just as his end product has been criticised for Newcastle United, he has too often failed to make the difference at international level. The midfielder has as many red cards for his country as goals (two) and has never netted for the Albirroja in a competitive match. Almiron did assist Paraguay's opener in a draw with Argentina at the 2019 Copa America, however.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Argentina and Paraguay have met 25 times at the Copa America. Argentina have never lost to Paraguay in the competition (W19 D6).
– Paraguay are unbeaten in four against Argentina in all competitions (W1 D3). The last Argentina win against Monday's opponents was in the 2015 Copa America (6-1).
– The record between both teams in their latest six meetings in all competitions is tied, with one win each and four draws. The past two matches finished as 1-1 draws.
– Paraguay's Kaku leads the 2021 Copa America in terms of chances created. He has created 10 chances, tied with Neymar, but Paraguay have played only one game.
– Argentina are the team with the most fouls won at this Copa America (37).

Lionel Scaloni said Argentina produced the "extra rage" they needed to end their run of draws with a 1-0 Copa America victory over rivals Uruguay on Friday.

Lionel Messi crossed for Guido Rodriguez to head in the 13th-minute winner for Argentina's first victory of this year's Copa America after their opening 1-1 draw with Chile.

Scaloni has come under pressure following Argentina's run of three draws, blowing a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Colombia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying along with a 1-1 home draw with Chile on the roar to Qatar 2022 earlier this month.

"I honestly believe that in the previous matches we also deserved to win, but due to small mistakes we were only able to draw," head coach Scaloni said during his post-match news conference.

"Today the team gave the extra rage so that they don't convert us and once we were winning we were able to withstand the opponent's attacks. Today we were good both in attack and defence."

Argentina – amid a 15-game unbeaten run – were strong defensively, having denied Uruguay any shots on target throughout the match, the second time it has occurred in a competitive game under Scaloni.

In attack, Messi was named man of the match for the second consecutive game, providing the assist for the decisive moment in the game.

"Messi and all his team-mates made a great effort," Scaloni said. "He speaks very well of the commitment of all the players and fills us with pride.

"They do it for the shirt of their country. This is going to be hard, but the way is this."

Real Betis midfielder Rodriguez was one of four changes to the Argentina starting XI from the side which drew with Chile and Scaloni was delighted with his display.

Argentina have scored 10 of their last 11 goals in the first half across World Cup qualifying and the Copa America. In this period, only Joaquin Correa, against Bolivia, has scored a goal in the second half.

"Guido was always with us and we have valued his commitment for a long time, with his way of training and his way of supporting his team-mates," Scaloni said. "Today he had his chance and he did not waste it."

Argentina are next in action against Paraguay in Brasilia on Sunday.

Friday did not go according to plan for Uruguay. La Celeste were beaten 1-0 by Lionel Messi's Argentina in their Copa America opener.

It was another match and another blank for Uruguay, who have not scored this calendar year amid a four-game winless streak.

Not since 2013 have Uruguay got the better of their old rivals, while Argentina are undefeated in five games against Uruguay at the Copa America.

Despite Uruguay's current problems and attacking woes, even with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the line-up, Oscar Tabarez's legend continues to grow.

Tabarez is battling an ailment but is still serving the football-mad nation, dating back to 2006.

His story is not only legendary, but inspirational.

Tabarez has Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.

But that has not stopped the 74-year-old in his second stint in charge of Uruguay, having also coached La Celeste from 1988 to 1990.

Responsible for resurrecting Uruguay, Tabarez still celebrates goals even as an elderly man with a stick, struggling to walk.

"I am not living with any pain. This neuropathy sometimes causes me problems, especially to walk. But since this is a chronic illness, sometimes I am a little better," Tabarez previously said, having been expected to resign in 2016 following the diagnosis.

Tabarez, remarkably, is overseeing his seventh Copa America campaign. He guided Uruguay to their 15th CONMEBOL crown in 2011 and first since 1995.

Only three other coaches have managed more Copa America matches than Tabarez – a primary school teacher before embarking on a coaching career that has taken him to the likes of Boca Juniors and Milan.

On his watch, Uruguay have reached the quarter-finals on three occasions, finishing fourth in 2007. Tabarez's team also rode a wave en route to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals. A last-16 berth and quarter-final appearance followed in 2014 and 2018.

"What the Teacher achieved in this time is very big because he started totally from scratch," Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera said previously. "He has created everything we achieved and what is yet to come. If Uruguay is this respected worldwide it is because he made it."

Fast forward to 2021. His 31st meeting with La Albiceleste was a fruitless one for Tabarez and Uruguay, who have not conquered Argentina in Copa competition since 1989.

Uruguay have their work cut out this year but Tabarez has built a team that can never be underestimated.

More importantly, while silverware is at the forefront of El Maestro's mind, this is a story about human endeavour and a hero with an unwavering belief and refusal to quit.

Lionel Messi set up the winner as Argentina edged rivals Uruguay 1-0 to claim their first victory of the 2021 Copa America in Brasilia on Friday.

Argentina, who have not lifted the Copa America since 1993, had drawn 1-1 with Chile in their opening game but secured three points thanks to Guido Rodriguez's first international goal in the 13th minute.

Messi pulled the strings for 14-time Copa runners-up La Albiceleste – beaten finalists in 2015 and 2016 – with his cross from the left flank finding Real Betis midfielder Rodriguez for his winner, which snapped Argentina's run of three consecutive draws while extending their unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

Uruguay, playing their first game of this year's CONMEBOL tournament, were left frustrated by a resolute Argentina, while they were left to bemoan a first-half penalty shout which was turned down.

Argentina started brightly as Messi stung the palms of Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera with a curling seventh-minute effort, before Nicolas Otamendi had a header saved.

Messi then created space down the left for a cross which found Rodriguez, who nodded in off the inside of the post for his maiden Argentina goal.

In the 27th minute, Uruguay had a penalty shout turned down when Rodriguez appeared to make slight contact with Edinson Cavani inside the box.

Argentina raced down the other end with Messi laying off for Nahuel Molina, who tested Muslera at the near post.

Opportunities were few and far between in the second half, with Uruguay star Cavani almost glancing in a half-chance in the 69th minute while a subdued Luis Suarez flashed a volley over as Uruguay built some momentum.

Argentina struggled to create anything of note after the break, relying in attack on Messi, who was regularly crowded out by Uruguay's defence.

 

Lionel Messi issued something of a rallying cry as Argentina attempt to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Uruguay on Friday.

Messi scored Argentina's only goal – a gorgeous free-kick – last time out, but it was not enough to seal a victory against Chile.

Eduardo Vargas levelled for La Roja after Arturo Vidal failed to convert an initial penalty, and despite Argentina creating a plethora of chances, they could not find a way past Claudio Bravo again.

Nicolas Gonzalez, who is reportedly close to joining Brighton and Hove Albion, was particularly culpable, spurning several good opportunities. He had six shots with a total xG (expected goals) value of 1.2, but he failed to find the net with any of them – Neymar is the only player with a higher xG (1.5) who failed to score so far.

 

As it turns out, Lionel Scaloni is reportedly considering resting Gonzalez due to him coming into the tournament with an injury, though Cristian Romero is potentially in line for a return at the back after a thigh issue.

Whoever plays, Messi is looking to ensure they are suitably motivated ahead of what will undoubtedly be another bruising encounter, given the historic rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay, who have not lost any of their last five Copa America games (after 90 minutes).

On his official Instagram account, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner wrote: "We are prepared to compete and we will continue fighting to win every game. Vamos Argentina!"

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Nicolas Otamendi

While Argentina certainly are not shy of talent going forward, they are less convincing at the back. Otamendi has come in for criticism in recent times lately, and even posted a message on social media this week addressing the situation, saying: "Don't allow the noise of other people's opinions to silence your inner voice. Always be positive." But in fairness to him, his four tackles was twice as many as any of his team-mates last time out, while his six clearances was five more than anyone else.

Uruguay – Lucas Torreira

Sure, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani carry a lot of responsibility going forward for Uruguay, but they need to do their best to keep Messi quiet as well. A fool's errand that may be, but – if he starts – Torreira is likely to have some say in whether or not La Celeste can keep the Barcelona man quiet. A feisty competitor and tough tackler, his potential duel with Messi could be crucial.

KEY OPTA FACTS

-Argentina and Uruguay will meet in a Copa America campaign after going two tournaments without doing so (2016 and 2019). La Albiceleste are unbeaten in their last four meetings against La Celeste (W3 D1). The last Uruguay win was in 1989.

-Argentina have lost just one of their last nine meetings with Uruguay in all competitions (W5 D3). Their last defeat against Uruguay was in October 2013.

-Uruguay come into this game on an unbeaten run of five games (90 minutes only). Their last defeat in 90 minutes in this competition was in June 2016 (0-1 vs Venezuela).

-Argentina scored with only six per cent of their shots – the lowest conversion ratio of any team in the opening round of games.

-Oscar Tabarez will be managing his seventh Copa America. He will face Argentina for the 31st time and is the manager with the fourth-most games overseen in this tournament.

Lionel Messi said Argentina lacked control while bemoaning the state of the pitch in their Copa America draw against Chile.

Messi scored a stunning free-kick in the first half but it was not enough as Chile salvaged a 1-1 draw in the Group A encounter in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Superstar captain Messi converted his first free-kick for Argentina since November 2016 – after 1,672 days – after curling his set-piece past Claudio Bravo in the 33rd minute.

Chile star Arturo Vidal was awarded a penalty for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitch-side monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Emiliano Martinez, Eduardo Vargas nodded in following up approaching the hour mark.

"I think the penalty kick and when they draw gave them peace of mind, they started to handle the ball, we couldn't have it and the game got complicated for us," Messi, who scored his third Copa free-kick, said post-match.

"When we were in advantage we could not sustain the result, the playing field did not help us and we lacked control of the ball and to play faster, which they did when they managed to draw level. I did not see the penalty, but clearly it changed the game."

Argentina – runners-up in 2015 and 2016 – had their best expected goals (xG of 2.82) in a game under head coach Lionel Scaloni in World Cup qualifiers or Copa America, but they scored only one direct free-kick goal.

"We wanted to start winning, it was important to get the victory," Messi said. "We played against a very difficult opponent and now we will do it against Uruguay, another very difficult and even game.

"They are two very tough games to start the cup, that's why we wanted to start winning today."

Chile goalkeeper Bravo added: "[Messi] has a punch that not everyone has, a different precision than the rest.

"In the [World Cup] qualifiers it was my turn to come out victorious and today I had to suffer it, but football is like that and you enjoy when you have great players on the other side and who put difficult challenges on you, as well as my mission is to make things difficult for your opponent.

"I think the essential thing is that today we compete very well and this fills us with enthusiasm for what lies ahead."

It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

 

By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

A sublime Lionel Messi free-kick was not enough for Argentina to start the Copa America with a victory as Chile striker Eduardo Vargas salvaged a 1-1 draw.

Argentina had much the better of the first half and mercurial captain Messi put them in front with a brilliant free-kick in the Group B encounter at Estadio Nilton Santos.

Vargas came to Chile's rescue after the break, heading home the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved Arturo Vidal's penalty.

Nicolas Gonzalez was particularly wasteful as Argentina were unable to secure what would have been a deserved victory in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Messi is yet to win a trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

Giovani Lo Celso was Chile's chief tormentor in a promising start from the Albiceleste, setting up chances that Lautaro Martinez and Gonzalez were unable to take.

Gonzalez headed over the crossbar after his shot was palmed away by Claudio Bravo and the forward also failed to beat the Chile goalkeeper with a tame finish when the lively Lo Celso sent him clear with an incisive pass.

Messi produced yet another moment of magic to put Argentina in front, though, bending a brilliant free-kick into the top-right corner after 33 minutes.

An unmarked Martinez spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he scuffed a shot wide and Lionel Scaloni's side were made to pay for their profligacy when Chile levelled 12 minutes into the second half.

Vidal was awarded a spot-kick for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitchside monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Martinez, Vargas nodded in following up.

Bravo palmed away Messi's drive 20 minutes from time and Gonzalez headed over the bar when his skipper presented him with another golden opportunity in a frustrating start for Argentina.

Lionel Messi admitted he is concerned about the coronavirus situation as the superstar captain targets a long-awaited title with Argentina at the Copa America.

Messi's Argentina will open their Copa America campaign against rivals Chile in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Monday.

Brazil is hosting the Copa after CONMEBOL controversially removed Argentina and Colombia as co-hosts due to respective political and COVID-19 issues.

Despite being one of the country's worst hit by the coronavirus health crisis, Brazil was awarded hosting duties for this year's showpiece event, which was already pushed back a year because of COVID-19.

Defending champions Brazil won 3-0 on Sunday against a Venezuela side that had reported 12 positive coronavirus tests amongst their ranks earlier in the week.

Speaking on the eve of Argentina's first match, Messi told reporters: "We are concerned about the situation because it is a risk for all of us to catch COVID-19.

"Although we try to take care of ourselves and do everything they tell us is not easy, because then these things happen and we face other national teams where there is a risk of contagion.

"We will try to do our best so that it does not happen to us, but this does not depend only on us and anything can happen."

Despite his remarkable Barcelona success, Messi is yet to win a senior trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

La Albiceleste and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi also lost in the 2014 World Cup decider – beaten by Germany.

"I always said that I am available to try to be with the national team and give my best," the 33-year-old Messi said.

"My biggest dream is to achieve something with the Argentina, I was close many times and unfortunately it was not given to me, but I will try to keep looking for it until it is given to me.

"If the coach who is there thinks that I can continue contributing to the team, I will always want to be there and fight for that dream. I was lucky to win everything with my club and individually, and it would be very nice to win something with the national team."

Messi was directly involved in 50 goals (38 scored, 12 assisted) in 47 games for Barca in 2020-21. Only three players in Europe's top-five leagues managed more.

He has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons, while the veteran scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top-five leagues.

Lionel Messi begins his latest quest for international glory on Monday when Argentina start their Copa America campaign against Chile.

Twice a losing finalist in 2015 and 2016 - each time to Chile - the Albiceleste came third at the tournament two years ago after losing in the semi-finals to Brazil.

While they did at least defeat La Roja in that bronze-medal match, those two penalty shoot-out losses were tough to swallow for Messi, who has been unable to match his remarkable club success for his country.

Only Uruguay (15) have won this tournament more often than Argentina (14), but their last title came in 1993 and they have lost four consecutive finals, having also been beaten in 2004 and 2007.

Argentina hold the records for both most goals scored (462) and most appearances (195) in the history of the Copa America and can at least feel buoyed by the fact they have not lost a match since that 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the last four in 2019.

They drew with Chile and Colombia in their most recent matches in World Cup qualifying, each time after taking the lead, but there appears to be a growing belief within the squad around coach Lionel Scaloni's ideas.

"The truth is the team is really well, the group is really well. We're getting to know each other more and consolidating the coaching staff's idea," Giovani Lo Celso said this week, as per Ole.

"As we know, all South American teams and matches are very difficult. It's all very balanced, very competitive and we know there are no easy games. It's going to be a very difficult group."

Chile's preparations were blighted by a foot injury suffered by Alexis Sanchez, with the Inter forward not now expected to be fit until the knockout phase.

They have only won three matches since the previous tournament and have only played three games this year under coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Still the go-to star for Argentina 16 years after his debut, this year's Copa America and the 2022 World Cup look like being Messi's final chances for international glory.

He might be turning 34 this month, but his powers remain imperious: he was directly involved in 50 goals (38 scored, 12 assisted) in 47 games for Barcelona in 2020-21. Only three players in Europe's top-five leagues managed more.

Chile – Carlos Palacios

An unknown at senior tournament level, Carlos Palacios will be familiar to some crowds in Brazil, having joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola this year.

Still awaiting a first start for his country, the 20-year-old could well be called upon in the absence of Sanchez as Chile bid to come through Group B games with Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina are unbeaten in their 28 Copa America clashes with Chile. Their 28 games are the most against a single opponent without defeat in their Copa America history.
- Chile's two Copa America titles came in consecutive editions – claiming glory in both the 2015 and 2016 tournaments.
- Argentina have beaten every single opponent in this year's Copa America more times than they have lost to them in tournament history.
- Chile made it at least to the quarter-finals in seven of the past eight editions.

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

Argentina left Juan Foyth and Lucas Ocampos out of their Copa America squad as Lionel Scaloni finalised his plans for the tournament in Brazil.

Scaloni made a last-minute adjustment as Bayer Leverkusen forward Lucas Alario was ruled out by injury and River Plate rising star Julian Alvarez took his place, .

The omissions of Foyth, who on Friday sealed a move from Tottenham to Villarreal, and Sevilla winger Ocampos, may be held up to scrutiny later.

However, Scaloni chose a 28-man squad packed with pedigree as Argentina attempt to conquer the Copa America for the first time since 1993, with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez giving the Albiceleste a formidable forward line.

Argentina face Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group B of the South American championship. They were due to be co-hosts of the tournament but COVID-19 factors saw it move to Brazil at late notice.

Alario had been included on the initial final squad list sent to organisers CONMEBOL, but he was eventually excluded due to the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the closing weeks of Leverkusen's season.

Alvarez, 21, did not feature on Argentina's provisional list of 50 players but was allowed to join the squad because of Alario's injury.

CONMEBOL said in a statement: "This Friday, June 11, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) informed CONMEBOL of the injury of Lucas Alario, a player included in the list of 28 summoned for the CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 that had been delivered on Thursday, June 10.

"Given this, the Argentine Football Association requested the replacement of said player and the inclusion in his place of Julian Alvarez, a footballer not included in the first instance in the preliminary list presented on June 1.

"Said request was approved by the CONMEBOL medical commission in accordance with the provisions of the regulations and after the delivery of Form 2 [substitution of injured players]."

Argentina squad for Copa America:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), Agustin Marchesín (Porto), Juan Musso (Udinese); Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Lucas Martínez Quarta (Fiorentina), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Lisandro Martínez (Ajax), Cristian Romero (Atalanta), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese); Leandro Paredes (PSG), Guido Rodríguez (Real Betis), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Angel Di María (PSG), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna); Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Sergio Aguero (Barcelona), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart).

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.