Messi creates both goals as Argentina opens Copa America title defense by beating Canada 2-0


ATLANTA (AP) — 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 America title with a 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday night.

Argentina is seeking its third straight major title after winning the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup.

With South America’s championship moved to the United States 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 MacAllister. 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 had a 12-3 shots advantage in the second half and Messi failed to convert on a pair of excellent chances. Crépeau made a diving stop in the 65th minute 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.

He 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, 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.

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

“The pitch wasn't great. It was very bumpy,” Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez said. “It was hard for us. We normally — we like the pitch to be quite slippery and quick for our game, our style of the game.”

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 Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico and Enzo Fernández.

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