Argentina beats Canada to begin Copa América defense

Lionel Messi's through ball led to Julián Álvarez's goal in the 49th minute, then he assisted on Lautaro Martínez's goal in the 88th as Argentina began the defense of its Copa América title with a 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Argentina is seeking its third straight major title after winning the 2021 Copa América and the 2022 World Cup and they got things underway at a sold out Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With South America's championship moved to the United States for the second time, Messi set a Copa América record by playing in his 35th match, one more than Chile's Sergio Livingstone from 1941 to 1953. Messi extended his own record with his 18th assist.

Messi, who turns 37 on Monday, created the first goal when he headed a pass through the defense for Alexis Mac Allister. The midfielder side-footed to Álvarez while crashing into onrushing goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau about 8 yards out. Álvarez had a virtually empty net and kicked the ball in over a sliding defender for his eighth goal in 32 international appearances.

Messi extended his Copa América record when he ran through the center of the midfield and rolled a pass to Martínez, who got his 25th international goal.

Messi's best scoring chance was in the 65th minute, when Crépeau made a diving stop and Messi's attempt off the rebound was blocked by the head of defender Derek Cornelius. Messi put a chip wide after he came in alone on Crépeau in the 79th.

Argentina players celebrate after scoring a goal against Canada at the Copa América.
Argentina players celebrate after scoring a goal against Canada at the Copa América.
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The Inter Miami star was shaken up by a sliding tackle from defender Moïse Bombito in the 82nd minute, but remained in the game.

Argentina plays Chile on Tuesday at East Rutherford, New Jersey, then closes the first round against Peru on June 29 at Miami Gardens, Florida. Canada faces Peru on Tuesday at Kansas City, Kansas, and finishes the group stage against Chile on June 29 at Orlando, Florida.

Fourteen U.S. stadiums are hosting the tournament, which runs through June 14 and ends at Miami Gardens. Six nations from Concacaf were added to the 10 South American teams, just as in the centennial Copa América in 2016.

Slow starts did not prevent the Albiceleste from winning their previous two tournaments. Argentina opened the 2022 World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and began the 2021 Copa América with a 1-1 draw against Chile.

Canada made its Copa América debut and played its first competitive match under American coach Jesse Marsch, who was hired on May 13. The former Leeds and New York Red Bulls coach said his side did its best against Messi, but couldn't contain him the whole night.

"Yeah, we talked a lot about our compactness and then identifying the spaces that Messi likes to show up," Marsch said. "We talked about not diving in because it's hard to win tackles from him and what happens is if you eliminate yourself or if you start diving in for tackles, he's really good slipping and moving and getting back again and making little final plays.

"This is what I say about Messi. I've coached against him several times and I feel like we've had a good match plan and we've executed a lot of good things. He's so good, he's that good that he still makes plays. The two balls he makes on the two goals I think are world class. Amazing, it's awful. It's amazing."

Grass was installed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a MLS game Saturday on the usual artificial turf.

Argentina started eight players who began the 2022 World Cup final victory over France, inserting central defender Lisandro Martínez, left back Marcos Acuña and Leandro Paredes for Nicolás OtamendiNicolás Tagliafico and Enzo Fernández.

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez was tested in the 43rd minute, but he used his left hand to bat away a bounced header by Stephen Eustáquio.

Canada captain Alphonso Davies was not content with his side's display against the World Cup champions.

"We have to change our attitude towards the game," he told Canadian broadcaster TSN. "The first half we played well, but in the second half we let every long ball bounce. It was a disappointing result, we need to look at everything we did wrong in the game and fix it as soon as possible."