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Messi, Scaloni comment on challenges Argentina faced in 2-0 Copa America win over Canada

A sea of 70,000 sky blue and white striped Argentina fans and a smattering of red-clad Canada fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium Thursday evening for the highly-anticipated Copa America opener between Lionel Messi’s World Cup champion Albiceleste and the upset-minded Canadian team.

The rabid Argentinean fans made the pilgrimage from all over South America, Central America, the United States, and other corners of the world for a chance to see their beloved hero and his teammates begin defense of their Copa America title.

Argentina emerged with a 2-0 win, but it wasn’t easy.

Canada, ranked No. 48 in the world, kept Messi and his top-ranked team scoreless for the first half before Julian Alvarez found the back of the net with a close-range shot in the 48th minute with a sequence that began with a slick Messi pass. Lautaro Martinez scored an emphatic insurance goal in the 88th minute off a perfectly weighted through ball from Messi.

The Inter Miami star and eight-time Ballon d’Or winner missed a few scoring chances he typically finishes, including back-to-back shots on a breakaway in the second half. The first was saved by Canadian keeper Maxime Crepeau and his shot off the rebound was blocked by a defender. He put his hands on his knees and shook his head in disbelief.

“It was a difficult game; we knew it would be this way because Canada is a tough match up physically, they counter attack very well and are very fast,” Messi said after the game. “The first half it cost us a lot. We couldn’t find spaces. But luckily we won, which is the most important thing.”

As for his missed chances, Messi said: “I had a few situations to score goals, we could have taken control of the match earlier and been more calm, but I’m happy for the victory and to start the tournament with a win.”

Messi had another tough moment in the 84th minute, when he tangled with Canadian player Moise Bombito, tripped and stayed on the ground for a few minutes as the crowd watched in silence. But he finally stood up, shook off the knock, poured water on his head and continued.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni opened his post-game news conference with a complaint about the newly-installed field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The stadium’s artificial turf was not allowed by FIFA, so a natural grass field was installed over the turf this week.

“With all due respect, we have known for seven months that this game was going to played here, and they just changed the turf two days ago, which is not good for a game of this magnitude,” Scaloni said. “It was, quite frankly, not adequate for these players. Thankfully, we won, because otherwise it would have sounded like an cheap excuse for me to say this but this field was not satisfactory.”

He added that the speed of the passes was affected by the new field. “It’s a field that two days ago was synthetic. They can’t change that so quickly, there were some seams between the patches which were painted over so you couldn’t tell from above.”

Scaloni then stressed that the field condition was not an excuse for how his team played in the first half, but the conditions were not ideal.

Canada coach Jesse Marsch, the American former RB Leipzig and Leeds United manager, took over the team last month and instilled a new mantra: “No fear.”

Asked before the game what he expected, Marsch said: “I believe that we’ll have a good match; we’ll have a good start and that the team will show confidence in an incredibly difficult situation.”

All three proved correct and Messi’s legion of fans did not get to celebrate as much as they anticipated despite Argentina having nine shots on goal to two for Canada.

They showed up in his No. 10 national team shirt and his Inter Miami and Barcelona jerseys. They wore Messi hats, scarves, and tattoos. They sang and danced, as they did the night before when they overtook Peachtree Street in downtown for an impromptu pep rally as Messi’s image looked down on them from a Michelob Ultra billboard.

Alexi Macias of Port St. Lucie, Florida, an Inter Miami season holder and diehard Argentina fan, wore a Lionel Messi hat, shirt, mask and tattoo on his left calf, and carried a Messi cell phone case to the Copa America opener vs. Canada at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on June 20, 2024.
Alexi Macias of Port St. Lucie, Florida, an Inter Miami season holder and diehard Argentina fan, wore a Lionel Messi hat, shirt, mask and tattoo on his left calf, and carried a Messi cell phone case to the Copa America opener vs. Canada at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on June 20, 2024.

When a video of Messi walking into the stadium was displayed on the giant stadium screens, the place erupted in “Messi! Messi!” chants. And when the Argentina players ran onto the field for warmups, the roar was deafening. Canada’s team was greeted by jeers.

But it didn’t take long for the Canadians to quiet the crowd as they made life difficult for the heavily favored Argentines. Although Argentina possessed the ball 66 percent of the first half, there were no goals to show for it. Canada could have taken a lead just before halftime, but Stephen Eustaquio’s header was saved by Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez.

“We had a good performance, made it very difficult for Argentina, and could have had the lead,” Marsch said. “We learned we can play with these teams. We let this game slip away from us when we had certain things in control.”

There was no question Messi, the team captain, would be in the starting lineup, which he was. Argentina’s biggest questions, considering its loaded roster, were who would start in midfield and at the No. 9.

Coach Lionel Scaloni went with Leandro Paredes of Roma over Gio Lo Celso of Tottenham Hotspur and Julian Alvarez of Manchester City over Lautaro Martinez of Inter Milan.

Argentina’s starting XI were: Emiliano Martinez, Marcos Acuna, Cristian Romero, LisandroMartinez, Nahuel Molina, Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister, Angel Di Maria, Messi, and Alvarez

Canada’s starting lineup had no surprises: Maxime Crepeau, Alphonso Davies, Derek Cornelius, Moise Bombito, Allistair Johnston, Liam Millar, Stephen Eustaquio, Ismael Kone, Tajon Buchanan, Cyle Larin, and Jonathan David.

Argentina has played in three of the past four Copa America finals, losing to Chile in 2015 and 2016 in penalty kicks, and finishing third place in 2019, before beating Brazil in 2021 for the title. A year later, they added the World Cup trophy to their collection.

Argentina’s next game is June 25 against Chile at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and then they play Peru June 29 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.