Home Sports Lionel Messi leads Argentina to 2-0 win over Canada in Copa America opener – but the defending champions have plenty of room for improvement

Lionel Messi leads Argentina to 2-0 win over Canada in Copa America opener – but the defending champions have plenty of room for improvement

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Julián Álvarez celebrates after beating Argentina against Canada in the Copa América

Lionel Messi raised the curtain on the Copa America but took his time finding center stage before Argentina beat Jesse Marsch’s plucky Canada 2-0 in Atlanta.

A sublime pass from Messi in the 47th minute opened up Canada’s tenacious defense, with Julián Álvarez slotting a goal into the empty net after Alexis Mac Allister was brought down by goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. And after Messi missed a series of chances in the second half, substitute Lautaro Martínez scored with two minutes left, thanks to an assist from Messi.

But if this is the beginning of the end and Messi’s ‘Last Dance’ in an international tournament – as the man himself hopes it will be – the World Cup winners need another level of pace in their game, more authority in the middle. field and eliminate slack in defensive passes. if his star wants to sign with a third international trophy.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game, very physical,” Messi said afterwards. ‘In the first half there was little space. Luckily we found the goal quickly in the second half. “We could have played better but it was still complicated.”

The first 10 minutes were brilliant for Argentina. Leandro Paredes tried his luck from 25 meters and his threatening right hand failed to get low enough to worry Crepeau.

Julián Álvarez celebrates after beating Argentina against Canada in the Copa América

Alexis Mac Allister received the assist but was hit after deflecting a pass from Lionel Messi.

Alexis Mac Allister received the assist but was hit after deflecting a pass from Lionel Messi.

There were quiet celebrations before it became clear that the Liverpool player was not seriously injured.

There were quiet celebrations before it became clear that the Liverpool player was not seriously injured.

And they should have scored four minutes later. Ángel Di María charged with a pass from Canada’s last man as they tried to recycle play from their own corner and had the entire half of the field to run with Messi beside him.

But Canada’s defense reacted brilliantly, racing back to force it wide before Crepeau easily repelled a shot from a position that should have delivered more.

Messi then crossed the goal with his left foot, but agonizingly deflected his shot wide before being flagged offside. Canada held on, but it felt like a warning when Argentina shook the dust off the gears.

However, Marsch’s men stood firm and their response to danger spoke volumes for the confidence he had instilled in them after just three games with this team. On the eve of the match, he called not to be afraid against Argentina and was not disappointed, even in defeat.

Alphonso Davies, Canada’s captain, was relentless on the left and set the tone for his team to harass and annoy their illustrious opponents. As Argentina threatened to take control in their lively start, Canada’s work rate increased and the control that Messi and his men had over the game weakened so much that a Mexican wave even swept through the stadium.

Mac Allister came close with a soft header, but Canada should have taken the lead before halftime. Cyle Larin’s ball from the byline was met by Stephen Eustaquio, but his header from six yards was parried away by Emiliano Martínez.

It was a huge relief for Argentina, and how different things could have been if the Porto player had avoided it.

For much of the first half, Messi had walked on the sidelines of the game. As he usually does, the man everyone wants to see is hiding in plain sight but he took Eustaquio’s header as a signal to go get the ball. Seconds before the half-time whistle, he slalomed from the right and shot left-footed, but his shot went harmlessly wide.

Messi missed several opportunities in the second half to end the game for his team.

Messi missed several opportunities in the second half to end the game for his team.

He lay on the grass and buried his head in the ground after his deft chip bounced wide.

He lay on the grass and buried his head in the ground after his deft chip bounced wide.

Lautaro Martínez secured the match with a clever finish off a Messi pass at the end

Lautaro Martínez secured the match with a clever finish off a Messi pass at the end

However, it was a sign of things to come. Four minutes after the break, he opened the scoring by playing in Mac Allister with a sumptuously weighted pass.

The Liverpool man looked injured when Crepeau collided with him after putting possession into Alvarez’s path, but after a few worrying moments it became clear that the goal had not come at any significant cost to the defending champions.

Álvarez almost scored again moments later, when Crepeau deflected his low shot with his right foot.

Messi then had a great chance to double the lead when Davies misjudged a long ball over the top (his only mistake of the night) which Messi controlled wonderfully on the run.

Crepeau ran out again and between him and Davies, he deflected Messi’s first shot and the rebound swung awkwardly for the attacker, who could only control it with his back to the goal. Canada forced the ball away and living dangerously seemed to give them life.

Davies caused chaos with a cross/shot that escaped Martínez’s goal to the eager gasps of the 70,564 fans who filled the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Martinez then had to bravely jump on Alistair Johnson’s ball in the six-yard box.

Canada could have scored a goal before halftime: Stephen Eustaquio's six-yard header was saved

Canada could have scored a goal before halftime: Stephen Eustaquio’s six-yard header was saved

Messi sees a shot blocked in a difficult first half for Argentina against Canada

Messi sees a shot blocked in a difficult first half for Argentina against Canada

The 36-year-old was often deprived of possession by a hard-working Canadian team.

The 36-year-old was often deprived of possession by a hard-working Canadian team.

With 10 minutes left, Messi ran onto a long ball from another of his anonymous positions on the right, deflected off Crepeau but lifted the ball above him and saw it bounce off the wrong side of the far post.

The couple appeared to collide, but it was accidental. It took Messi a minute to get back to his feet, his face pressed to the ground in frustration at another missed opportunity. Martínez then squandered an identical opportunity a minute later, shooting directly at the Canadian goalkeeper as Messi released him.

For a mortifying moment, Messi appeared injured by Moise Bombito’s final slide to block the pass, but instead made heavy contact with his right ankle. But after a minute of treatment, Messi recovered and, thanks to Martínez making no mistake on his second big chance, Argentina watched the game from there.

It wasn’t his best night, but Messi did enough to turn the game in his team’s favor with a magical moment for Álvarez’s first goal.

Yet another wasteful performance like this, against a team more ruthless than Canada, and Argentina will be there to welcome it.

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