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Argentina claim Copa America opener despite Messi misfires

Argentina kicked off their Copa America title defence with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday. The win came in front of a passionate crowd of over 70,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

While Lionel Messi surprisingly lacked his usual precision in front of goal, Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez found the net to secure the points for the champions. Canada, ranked a lowly 48th in the world, put up a valiant fight and can be proud of their performance.

Alvarez, starting alongside Messi in attack over Lautaro, nearly opened the scoring early but scuffed his shot after dispossessing a Canadian defender. Messi himself came close with a left-footed effort that sailed just wide.

Canada, coached by Jesse Marsch, weren’t mere bystanders. Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar threatened with shots, while Tajon Buchanan forced a save from Emiliano Martinez just before halftime. Canada’s biggest chance, however, came from a Stephen Eustaquio header that Emiliano Martinez brilliantly parried away.

The deadlock was broken just four minutes into the second half. Messi set up Alexis Mac Allister, who was brought down by Canada goalkeeper Max Crepeau, but before a foul could be called, Alvarez pounced on the loose ball and slotted it home.

Canada responded with urgency, switching to a more attacking formation and bringing on winger Jacob Shaffelburg, which put pressure on the Argentinian defense.

Messi then missed a golden opportunity on the counter-attack. He fluffed his initial shot and then couldn’t convert on the rebound either.

Incredibly, the superstar missed two more clear-cut chances later in the game. Crepeau, was outstanding throughout, denying Messi and Lautaro Martinez on multiple occasions.

Finally, with just two minutes remaining, Messi found his touch again. His pinpoint pass dissected the Canadian defense, and Lautaro Martinez raced through to slot home the clinching goal.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni acknowledged the team’s struggles on the temporary grass surface laid over Atlanta’s artificial pitch. “We had to dig in and close out the game, which is what it’s all about in the end,” he said.

Jesse Marsch, Canada’s coach, was proud of his team’s performance. “We played fearlessly,” he said. “I think we learned a lot from it – mostly that we can play with these dudes.”

(Source: AFP)

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