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Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Guatemala at ArgentinaJun 14, 2024; Landover, Maryland, USA; Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi (10) celebrates with Argentina midfielder forward Julian Alvarez (9) after scoring a goal against Guatemala in the second half at Commanders Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The difference between defending champion Argentina and Copa America newbie Canada can’t be more pronounced as they open Group A play in Atlanta on Thursday.

The Argentinians, led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, won the most recent tourney in 2021 as a prelude to winning the 2022 World Cup. Prior to that, Argentina reached Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016 and finished third in 2019.

The tourney includes 10 South American clubs and six from North and Central America and the Caribbean. The 48th edition is hosted by the United States for the second time.

Argentina holds all-time records in Copa America with 34 total medals and 128 wins. Messi is tied for seventh all-time in Copa America with 13 goals, holds the record with 17 assists and Thursday’s match will give him the record for matches played in the tournament (35), breaking a tie with Chile’s Sergio Livingstone.

The final is July 11 in Miami Gardens, Fla., and Argentina is favored to be there. Coach Lionel Scaloni’s squad features 21 of the 26 players from the World Cup championship two years ago.

Scaloni said last week Argentina needs to pause this month to enjoy Messi while he’s playing, but Messi is taking nothing for granted.

“Today, we can say that we are the best because we are the world champions,” he said. “But that does not make us believe that we are going to win this Copa America by walking.”

Argentina is ranked No. 1 in the FIFA World rankings. No. 49 Canada is in its first Copa America and is breaking in new coach Jesse Marsch, the American who last managed Leeds United of the English Premier League. Canada named Marsch to the post on May 13.

After Canada lost all three matches in the 2022 World Cup, Marsch is using Copa America as preparation for a better performance in the 2026 World Cup that will be played in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Marsch said Wednesday he planned no major revisions to the lineup but emphasized the buzzword with the team entering the opener is aggressiveness.

Captain Alphonso Davies said Canada doesn’t need extra motivation to put their best foot forward Thursday night.

“Our mindset is strong, we’re going out there and play against the champions,” Davis said Wednesday. “That’s the motivation for us.”

Canada’s Copa America squad has just two players over age 30 — goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (30) and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (32) — and fifteen are 25 or younger.

“I think it’s been good for this new group. It’s kind of a new era and guys are responding really well,” Osorio said.

The youthfulness contrasts with Messi, who turns 37 on Monday but is not slowing down. He has 12 goals in 12 matches for Inter Miami this MLS season.

Canada is next scheduled to play Tuesday against Peru, when Argentina matches up with Chile. Both teams complete group play June 29 with Canada-Chile, Argentina-Peru.

–Field Level Media

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