Lionel Messi and defending champion Argentina still hungry for titles ahead of Copa America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Lionel Messi won the World Cup in 2022, won the Copa America in 2021, and wants to show he has the hunger to win some more.

Argentina heads into this month's South American soccer championship as the defending champion but with a team that's slowly starting to rejuvenate.

The tournament, which starts on June 20 in the United States, will gauge whether Messi will still be able to play at the next World Cup in 2026, when he'll be 39. It will also test young talents like striker Alejandro Garnacho and mark the national team's goodbye to veteran Ángel Di María.

“We are clear about the path to follow. It is not easy to compete again after winning it all," Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said in March. “About results, the winner isn't always the one who does the best things. ... No one can lower their guard.”

Argentina won its 15th Copa America title three years ago, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, by beating Brazil 1-0 in the final. That tournament served as a springboard for its triumphant run to the World Cup title a year later in Qatar.

Argentina is still counting on several players who won those titles with Argentina, but with key additions when the team opens play on June 20 against Canada in Group A. Peru and Chile are also in the group.


Messi will turn 37 during the Copa America, which will also mark the first time he'll play a major event since leaving European soccer. He scored 15 goals in 14 matches for Inter Miami this year.

The Argentina captain has struggled with muscular injuries since the World Cup, but has not said when he expects to retire from the national team.

“Time will tell whether I will be (at the 2026 World Cup) or not,” Messi told Star Plus in December. “As long as I feel I am well and that I am able to help, I will do it. Today all I think about is to get well to the Copa America and play it. Fight for it again, as we always do, try to be the champions.

“If we do well at Copa America and I can keep playing, maybe it happens."


Di María scored in both the winning Copa America and World Cup finals, but the veteran striker has decided to end his national team career this year in the United States.

“Copa America will be the last time I wear the Argentina shirt. With all the pain in my soul and feeling a lump in the throat, I bid farewell of the most beautiful thing that happened in my career," Di María said at the end of 2023 on his social media channels.

Di María is fourth on the list in appearances for Argentina, playing in 138 matches since his debut in 2008. He played in the last four World Cups and was also in the squad that won the Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.


All 11 players who started against France in the 2022 World Cup final are likely to be in the squad, including goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, defenders Cristian Romero and Nicolás Otamendi, midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, and forward Julián Álvarez. The most notable absence is forward Paulo Dybala, who came on as a substitute in the penalty-shootout victory in Qatar and has struggled with injuries.

Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the decisive penalty, is likely to remain with the squad despite little playing time at English club Nottingham Forest.

Two players regarded as key for Argentina's renovation will be in the United States for the tournament, Brighton left back Valentín Barco and Monza striker Valentín Carboni.


AP soccer:

Débora Rey, The Associated Press