Wait For Messi’s Impact In Copa America

ATLANTA, United States: World champions Argentina will open the Copa America this Friday morning with Lionel Messi eyeing a second continental title in what looks to be his final appearance at the tournament.

The 108-year-old tournament was held in the United States (US) with the host among six teams from the CONCACAF zone joining 10 South American countries in the hunt for a place in the final on July 17 in Miami.

While FIFA will closely monitor the organization of the tournament, two years ahead of the World Cup which will be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico, the tournament’s illustrious history and prestige means it is not just a ‘test tournament.’

Argentina have won the Copa 15 times but only once during the Messi era in 2021 and coach Lionel Scaloni is relying entirely on a World Cup-winning squad, with veterans Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi likely to feature for the last time at a major tournament.

Whether this will be Messi’s last appearance in elite international football remains to be seen – the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, who currently plays in Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, will turn 37 after the opening game in Atlanta against Canada this Friday morning and It is still undecided if he will try to match his record six World Cup appearances.

“It’s great to have a record and keep winning things but I’m not going to play at the World Cup just to say I’ve been there six times,” Messi told ESPN last week.

“If I feel good and everything goes well for me to go there, fine, but I’m not going to go just because I want to go. It’s hard to imagine what will happen because there’s still two years left. I don’t have to make a commitment now either or not I will go there,” he said.

Messi, who managed to be at his best in the run-up to the tournament, is sure to be relishing the chance to win three major titles in a row with his country after years of disappointment with the national team.

After facing Canada, Argentina will face Chile in New Jersey before finishing Group A action against Peru in Miami but they are aware that tougher opponents await in the knockout stages with arch-rivals Brazil and Uruguay expected to challenge for the title.

Brazil are struggling in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in the South American zone after winning just two of their first six games and are currently sixth after defeats to Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina.

Some familiar names are out of Dorival Junior’s Brazil squad with Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus and Thiago Silva ruled out while Richarlison and Neymar are both injured.

The pressure will be on for Real Madrid’s attacking duo of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo to translate their excellent performances at the club into success with the Selecao with 17-year-old Endrick, who will join Real from Palmeiras next month expected to make his senior debut.

Uruguay, also 15-time champions, impressed under 68-year-old Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa, who brought with him a high-energy style of play that raised expectations following recent wins over Argentina and Brazil.

Liverpool forward Darwin Nunez will lead the attack although Bielsa has the option of featuring veteran Luis Suarez from the bench.

Colombia head into the tournament unbeaten in two years with Liverpool winger Luis Diaz a constant threat and James Rodriguez enjoying a late-career renaissance as Nestor Lorenzo’s side’s challenge cannot be underestimated.