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Messi Leads Argentina to Copa America Final, Edging Closer to Historic Feat

Messi’s 109th international goal secured Argentina’s place in the Copa America final, aiming for a record 16th title.

Lionel Messi and Argentina have advanced to the Copa America final, putting them one victory away from matching Spain’s record of winning three consecutive major titles.

“It’s incredible what this team has achieved,” Messi said on Tuesday night, after scoring his 109th international goal to secure a 2-0 win over Canada, earning a spot in the Copa America final. “For those of us who have been here a while, it’s beyond impressive that we’re in another final.”

Julián Álvarez opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, controlling a long pass from Rodrigo De Paul, taking two touches to evade Moïse Bombito, and slipping the ball through goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau’s legs for his ninth international goal.

Messi redirected Enzo Fernández’s shot, following a poor clearance by Ismaël Koné, in off Crépeau’s face from four yards out in the 51st minute for his first goal of the tournament. Messi now has 28 goals in his last 25 matches for Argentina and 14 in Copa America play, three shy of the record. He has scored against 38 different nations.

“I wasn’t sure if Enzo’s shot would go in,” Messi admitted. “It was a reflex.”

Only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, with 130, has more international goals than Messi, who turned 37 on June 24. Iran’s Ali Daei scored 108 or 109 from 1993 to 2006, with some debate over whether a goal against Ecuador in 2000 was in a full international match.

Argentina’s victory extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games. The Albiceleste seek a record 16th Copa title when they face Uruguay or Colombia on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Florida.

“We must enjoy every moment we’re living,” Messi said. “I’m aware these are the last battles.”

Aiming to replicate Spain’s achievement of winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships along with the 2010 World Cup, Argentina hopes to secure another Copa America title following their 2022 World Cup triumph.

“These are just statistics. I’m not really interested in them,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said through a translator. “The most important thing is to win.”

Making his 38th Copa America appearance, Messi had missed Argentina’s group stage finale due to a leg injury and was subdued in the quarterfinal win over Ecuador. He was much more agile this time, narrowly missing shots in the 12th and 44th minutes. Messi had 45 touches and a 79% pass success rate.

“They capitalise on small details,” Crépeau said.

The temporary grass surface at MetLife Stadium appeared heavy, with water splashing and sand popping up during dribbles.

“It’s been a very difficult Copa América,” Messi said. “Very competitive, bad surfaces, excessive heat.”

Argentina fans gathered in Times Square the night before the match and filled the streets of Manhattan before heading to MetLife Stadium. The crowd of 80,102, on a night with 82-degree temperature and 82% humidity, was overwhelmingly pro-Argentina, with only a few sections dominated by red-clad Canadian supporters.

This was one of the biggest games for Canadian soccer, which went 0-6 in its only World Cup appearances in 1986 and 2022 and won its only major title at the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina had previously beaten Canada 2-0 in the tournament opener on June 20.

“The tournament caught up with us a little bit,” Canada coach Jesse Marsch said. “There’s been heat, travel, a lot of challenges. We’re still at the beginning of our process. Argentina’s had about eight years together with this team, so we need to develop more players who can contribute to allow us to rotate in tournament play because physicality and fatigue eventually catch up with you.”

Canada star Alphonso Davies limped off in the 71st minute after his right leg was caught in a clean challenge with Gonzalo Montiel.

“He’s getting an X-ray, so we’re hopeful he’s OK, but we’re not sure,” Marsch said.

Canada had two shots on target: Jonathan David was thwarted by Emiliano Martínez from close range in first-half stoppage time, and Martínez made a kick save on Tani Oluwaseyi in the 89th minute.

“We started getting sloppy, away from the game plan,” said defender Derek Cornelius, who exchanged jerseys with Messi.

While Messi referred to “last battles,” Scaloni and fans hope Argentina and Messi will return to MetLife for the 2026 World Cup final.

“We will never be the ones to close the door,” Scaloni said. “He can be with our team for as long as he wants.”

Source ~ AP

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