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Messi leads Argentina into expanded Copa America and potential swansong

The Copa America kicks off on Thursday with all eyes on Lionel Messi, potentially playing his last tournament, as Argentina aim to defend their title.

This year’s edition features a record 24 teams, with six nations from CONCACAF joining the usual South American participants. The United States, co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup, will be a key test for FIFA in organizing this large-scale event.

Argentina, 15-time champions, largely retained their World Cup-winning squad. Veterans Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi might be making their final appearances in a major tournament.

The focus remains on Messi, now 36, who has yet to decide on a sixth World Cup appearance. Despite his workload management, he seeks to add a third straight major trophy with Argentina.

After facing Canada, Chile, and Peru in the group stage, Argentina will encounter stiff competition in the knockout rounds, with Brazil and Uruguay among the favorites.

Brazil, struggling in World Cup qualifiers, named a squad lacking several stars like Casemiro and Neymar due to injury. The attacking burden falls on Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, while 17-year-old Endrick, soon joining Real Madrid, will make his debut.

Uruguay, also 15-time winners, are revitalized under coach Marcelo Bielsa’s high-intensity style. Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez leads the attack, with veteran Luis Suarez providing options off the bench.

Colombia, unbeaten in over two years, boasts attacking threats like Luis Diaz and James Rodriguez, making them a contender.

The USA, yearning for a revival, will rely on Christian Pulisic’s wing play under coach Gregg Berhalter. Mexico, frequent Copa America guests, might struggle but can always count on passionate US-based fans.

(Source: AFP)

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