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Argentina vs Canada: Defending champions heavily fancied to send debutants home

East Rutherford anxiously awaits the first of two handsome-looking 2024 Copa America semi-finals as Argentina and Canada clash at the MetLife Stadium on Tuesday night.

Despite coming within two victories of breaking the tie with Uruguay as the two joint-most successful teams in Copa America history, Argentina’s performances on United States soil have lacked conviction.

Lionel Scaloni steamrolled to the top of Group A with all three wins but couldn’t find the net before half-time on each occasion, with three of their five group-stage goals coming beyond the 85th minute.

Inter Milan talisman Lautaro Martinez scored all three and then some, being responsible for four of La Albiceleste’s five goals in the tournament’s initial stage.

His namesake, Lisandro of Manchester United, netted Argentina’s maiden first-half goal at the tournament to open the scoring against Ecuador in the quarter-finals.

However, the third Martinez on the team, Emiliano, soaked up the limelight as the nation’s hero after Kevin Rodriguez’s stoppage-time strike took the game to penalties.

The Aston Villa goalkeeper made two crucial saves in the shootout, rendering Lionel Messi’s failed ‘Panenka’ attempt a mere footnote in the World Cup holders’ triumphant narrative.

Messi’s underwhelming showings in the competition could boost Canada’s hopes of upsetting the apple cart in New Jersey as they bid to avenge a 2-0 defeat in their Group A opener.


Jesse Marsch’s charges have since gone unbeaten across three consecutive Copa America outings (W1, D2) to reach the semi-finals in their first-ever tournament appearance.

Similarly to Argentina, the Canucks need penalties to overcome Venezuela in the quarter-finals following a 1-1 draw in regulation, getting on the cusp of their first major final outside the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

History beckons for the all-time best

Back-to-back defeats in the Copa America title deciders in 2015 and 2016 nearly ended Messi’s international career, forcing him to wave goodbye to Argentina amidst severe criticism.

However, La Pulga’s return to the national team has coincided with the nation’s best run since the glory days of the legendary Diego Armando Maradona.

After toppling arch-rivals Brazil in the 2021 final, La Albiceleste achieved a long-overdue World Cup triumph in 2022, cementing Messi’s status as the greatest of all time.

With the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner in the autumn of his trophy-laden career, wrapping up another continental title would be a fitting way to bid farewell to the national team.

Heavily fancied to advance into the grand final, Messi and his teammates carry an impressive ten-game winning Copa America streak into only their encounter against Canada.

Debutants up against the odds and history

Canada’s two previous meetings with Argentina were an unmitigated disaster. Before a 2-0 defeat at this tournament, they slumped to a 5-0 demolition in a friendly in 2010.

Luckily for the misfiring Canadian team, breaking their scoring drought against the CONMEBOL heavyweights isn’t a prerequisite to make it out of this ‘David vs Goliath’ tie.

Competition rules exclude extra time, meaning a scoreless draw would send this fixture to penalties, highlighting the importance of keeping things tight at the back in regulation.

As Salomon Rondon’s second-half equaliser in the quarter-finals remains the only goal the Canadians have conceded since their opening-day loss to Argentina, Marsch can be optimistic.

Defensive resilience will be crucial for Canada’s effort to deny Argentina a record-breaking 16th Copa America title, not least as they’ve drawn a blank in three of their last five internationals.

Argentina vs Canada potential line-ups

Argentina (4-4-2): Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico; Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister, Giovani Lo Celso, Nicolas Gonzalez; Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez.

Canada (4-2-3-1): Maxime Crepeau; Alistair Johnston, Moise Bombito, Derek Cornelius, Alphonso Davies; Jonathan Osorio, Stephen Eustaquio; Richie Laryea, Jonathan David, Jacob Shaffelburg; Cyle Larin.

Prediction

Despite Canada’s admirable effort to get this far in the competition, they’re out of their depth here.

Anything other than Argentina’s clear-cut win would be an epic upset, but Marsch’s side are unlikely to send Messi home.

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