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Copa America: Can Messi repeat his World Cup heroics and lead Argentina to more glory?

Eight-time Ballon d'Or winner seeking to lift back-to-back Copa America trophies in familiar territory on July 14

Lionel Messi

Argentina are the reigning World and Copa America champions and are warm, if not red hot favourites to make it three-straight tournament victories in the USA over the next three weeks.

He might turn 37 next Monday but the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi goes into the tournament in the USA seeking to win his third straight international tournament. Can anyone stop Messi and Argentina? Let’s see…

How’s Messi been doing over there?

While his move five time zones to the west to play in the MLS in 2023 means fewer opportunities for European fans to watch the maestro in action, Messi has been in typically stellar form in his first full season in the US.

He has scored 14 goals and provided 11 assists in just 15 appearances so far this season for Inter Miami across the MLS and CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Messi missed Argentina’s March friendly games against El Salvador and Costa Rica due to a hamstring injury but returned off the bench in the 1-0 win over Ecuador on June 10 and then started, and ran the show, in the 4-1 win over Guatemala in their final warm-up match on Saturday, scoring twice and assisting another to make it 108 goals in 182 caps for his country.

It’s not just Messi, Argentina are packed with experience and Angel Di Maria netted against Costa Rica and Ecuador, taking the 36-year-old within four goals of a certain Diego Maradona on the list of all-time Argentina scorers.

Emi Martinez, Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis MacAllister, Julian Alvarez, Lautaro Martinez, Alejandro Garnacho… the names are familiar and they have a culture of success which began with that historic Copa America win against Brazil in 2021.

Di Maria scored the only goal in the Maracana that day to end a 28-year title drought and give Lionel Scaloni his first senior silverware as a coach and give Messi some revenge for the 3-0 humbling their rivals inflicted on Argentina in the final of his first Copa America in 2007.

They’ll be desperate to keep the momentum going and shine in the twilight of Messi’s incredible career.

 

Who might stop Argentina?

Brazil – The obvious choice, Argentina’s fiercest rivals and closest challengers for the title, according to the bookmakers at least.

However Brazil feel like a team in flux. They lost to Colombia and were beaten at home by Argentina before Christmas. They can’t be written off and have reached the last two finals but coach Dorival Junior is yet to convince and their hopes appear to rest firmly on the shoulders of Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior, though teenage star Endrick might share some of the limelight.

There’s no Neymar, remember, and Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison and the experience of Thiago Silva and Casemiro have been left out. If Vini Jr wants to put the icing on the Ballon d’Or cake after a glorious year in Madrid then lifting his first international trophy is surely the best way to do it.

Uruguay – Former Argentina boss Marcelo Bielsa has done what he does, he has built a team which is more than the sum of its parts and they need to be respected.

Argentina and Uruguay are locked on 15 Copa America titles apiece, more than any other nation, how they would love to get one over their old rivals and land this one.

They do have the slightly unknown quantity of the USA in their group, along with gritty Panama, but once the knockouts are here they will surely take some stopping. Only penalties denied them a semi-final match-up with Argentina in Brazil three years ago.

Colombia – The Colombians might have missed out on a place in the Qatar 2022 World Cup but they are making up for lost time and go into the tournament on the back of a 22-match unbeaten run.

They only lost to Argentina on penalties in the 2021 semi-final, having ousted Uruguay on spot-kicks in the last eight. Fine margins in this competition, but with Luis Diaz up top and Davinson Sanchez and Bologna’s Jhon Lucumi at the back, anything is possible on their day.

There shouldn’t be complacency in the Argentine ranks, however, Messi himself told Argentinian TV on Tuesday: “Today we can say that we’re the best, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to win it easily.

“It’s going to be very evenly matched, all the teams are very tough.”

 

Is this to be Messi’s last hurrah?

Well, the 2026 World Cup is in now familiar surroundings for Messi. The United States, Canada and Mexico will co-host the tournament across 16 cities, with the action now less than two years away.

You can bet on Argentina being there, but will Messi still be going strong when the tournament kicks off just two weeks before his 39th birthday?

The man himself told Argentine channel America TV on Tuesday: “I don’t know what’s going to happen two years from now, I don’t know how I’m going to be physically, if I’m going to be able to continue contributing, that’s why I don’t know if I’m going to be there.

“I live day by day and I don’t think about what might happen. Even though age is a number, I feel very good.”

 

Road to the final…

Argentina begin their Group A campaign against Canada at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium in the early hours of Friday morning (1am BST).

Their second group game against Chile is at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey at 2am BST on Wednesday, June 26, while they complete their group stage against Peru in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on June 30th at 1am BST.

If they top their group Argentina would face the team which finishes second in Group B, potentially Mexico or Ecuador, in the quarter-final at NRG Stadium, Houston, on July 5th (2am BST).

The semi-final would be back in New Jersey on July 10 (1am BST) and would see them play against either the team which finished as runner-up in their own group or the team which finished top of the group featuring Mexico and Ecuador.

All the while Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and the USA will be battling it out in the other half of the draw, trying to secure a place in the final, back in Miami, on July 14.

 

Prediction

Messi had to wait 14 years to get his hands on the Copa America trophy, now he’s done it once, don’t expect him to give up that feeling easily.

The Final is in Miami, Messi’s new home town. The script would seem to be written. It would be a staggering shock if Argentina were not there.

If they face Brazil or Uruguay in the showpiece on the night of July 14th, however, anything could happen in a one-off game on neutral territory (even if Messi is the new King of Miami). However the experience and confidence of Messi and his men should prove enough to see them win back-to-back titles and become the most decorated side in continental competition history.

Picture of Alex Hoad

Alex Hoad

Alex has more than 15 years' experience in sports journalism and has reported on multiple Olympics, World Cups and European Championships in additional to Champions League, Europa League and domestic football.

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