Messi and Argentina overcome Canada and poor surface, start Copa America title defense with 2-0 win


Lionel Messi’s passing brilliance got Argentina off to a winning start in the defense of its Copa America title, overcoming Canada and a poor playing surface at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, according to AP.

Messi’s through ball led to Julián Álvarez’s 49th-minute goal and the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner assisted on Lautaro Martínez’s 88th-minute score in a 2-0 victory on Thursday night.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done this,” Messi said through a translator, “but we had patience to retain possession of the ball and it was hard to find the good open spaces.”

Argentina is seeking its third straight major title after winning the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup. Held scoreless in the first half, Argentina outshot Canada 12-3 in the second.

Albiceleste coach Lionel Scaloni and goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez both criticized the grass surface installed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one of the sites for the 2026 World Cup.

“The field was a disaster,” Martínez said. “It seems like a springboard with the ball jumping. They need to improve this. If not, Copa America will always be at lower level than the Euro.”

A crowd of 70,564 attended the opener of the 32-game tournament. The United States plays Panama at the stadium on June 27.

With South America’s championship moved to the U.S. for the second time, Messi set a Copa America record with his 35th match, one more than Chile’s Sergio Livingstone from 1941-53. Messi extended his own record with his 18th assist.

Messi, who turns 37 on Monday, created the first goal when following a throw-in, he headed a pass through the defense for Alexis Mac Allister. The midfielder side-footed a pass to Álvarez while crashing into an 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 America record when he ran through the center of the midfield and rolled a perfectly weighted pass to Martínez, who had entered in the 76th minute and slotted it past Crépeau for his 25th international goal.

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 July 14 and ends at Miami Gardens, Florida. Six nations from North and Central America and the Caribbean were added to the 10 South American teams, just as in the centennial Copa America 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 America with a 1-1 draw against Chile.

Canada made its Copa America debut and played its first competitive match under American coach Jesse Marsch, hired on May 13. The Canadians have not scored in three games under Marsch.