CONCACAF: Lionel Messi, Argentina roll past Canada into Copa final

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Argentina is one victory away from a triple crown when it plays for the Copa America title on Sunday after defeating Canada 2-0 in a semifinal on Tuesday in East Rutherford, N.J.

A win in Miami Gardens, Fla., over Colombia or Uruguay — their semifinal is Wednesday in Charlotte — would add to Argentina’s golden period. La Albiceleste captured the 2021 Copa America championship, then won the 2022 World Cup.

“It is crazy what this group has done, what the Argentine national team has been doing,” said Lionel Messi, who scored his first goal of the tournament on Tuesday. “After this, much more importance will be given to all the finals that I played and to all the players of the old generation.

“It is a difficult Copa, very hard, with a heavy temperature. The fact that we are once again in a final is to be highlighted. I am aware that these are the last battles, and I am enjoying them to the fullest.”

No South American team has accomplished the treble, which would be similar to Spain’s run from 2008 to 2012 of two European championships sandwiching the 2010 World Cup.

“I’m not really interested about it,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “The most important thing is to win, not what the statistics say that we could win three finals in a row.”.

Argentina is pursuing its record 16th Copa America championship. Uruguay also has 15 titles.

Scaloni believes his players don’t take winning for granted.

“Everyone thinks that it is very easy and straightforward, and Canada has shown today that it’s not an easy task,” he said. “They were a very tough opponent and everyone is giving their best. But of course, we are very pleased, and I hope that everyone can enjoy this, the people and the players.”

Messi, who was hampered by a groin/thigh injury earlier in the tourney, looked reinvigorated on a hot and humid night playing on a sand-laden, natural-grass field.

After Julian Alvarez scored in the 22nd minute, Messi made it 2-0 in the 51st minute when he used his left foot to redirect a shot by Enzo Fernandez. It wasn’t a typical Messi goal, but it still counted as his 109th for his country and the 14th of his Copa America career.

Messi had to wait a few minutes for a full celebration because the play was reviewed for him being offside, but Canadian defender Derek Cornelius had played him onside.

Earlier, Messi brought the crowd of 80,102 to its feet in the 12th minute when he whipped a shot from the edge of the box a foot outside the right post.

Alvarez, who scored the first goal of the tournament on June 20 in the 2-0 win over the Canadians, did it to them again after Argentina absorbed some early forays into its end by the lone remaining CONCACAF representative.

Rodrigo De Paul was near midfield when he sent a through ball forward. Alvarez, who plays for Manchester City, perfectly timed his run and with one touch pushed the ball ahead of the back line. He tracked the ball to score from the top of the box.

“It seems easy after everything we’ve been doing, but it’s not,” Alvarez said. “We deserve it, we have been working very well.”

Canada’s best chance to tie came two minutes into first-half stoppage time off a throw-in when Jonathan David tried to beat Emiliano Martinez at the near post but was denied.

Argentina had the advantage in shots on goal (3-2) and shot attempts (11-9).

Canada was a surprise semifinalist. The program was in disarray until Racine, Wis., native Jesse Marsch took over in May. He led the Canadians out of group stage in their first Copa America appearance when many predicted Mexico or the United States had the better chance to challenge for a title.

“The tournament caught up with us a little bit. … In the end, we’re still in the beginning of our process, right?” Marsch said. “Argentina has maybe had eight years together, seven years together with this team.

“I think in general, what I said to the team afterwards is: I know that they’re very disappointed, but I’m very proud of them. You know, we’ve put together some incredible performances.”

The Canadians will play the third-place match in Charlotte on Saturday against the Colombia-Uruguay loser.

“I took this job seven weeks ago,” Marsch said. “I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be right here, right now, right? So, I’m really happy with the team and really happy with the progress.”

–Field Level Media

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