Copa America Preview: Messi, Argentina rematch stand between Canada and glory

By John Molinaro, Sportsnet

Who’d have thought before the Copa América kicked off that Canada would become the big story of the tournament? 

But that’s exactly what has happened. The Canadian men’s team has earned the respect of South America’s elite nations by reaching the semifinals of the Copa in its tournament debut. 

Now Jesse Marsch’s team is just 90 minutes away from advancing to the final of one of the oldest and most prestigious international tournaments. All that stands in their way are Lionel Messi and Argentina, the reigning World Cup champions and Copa América holders. 

Here’s what you need to know about this week’s semifinals.  

Quick hits

  • Argentina vs. Canada kicks off Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. 
  • Canada is No. 48 in the current FIFA world rankings. Argentina is 1st.  
  • Argentina is the defending Copa América champion and has won the competition a record 15 times. Canada is competing in its first Copa América tournament. 
  • Uruguay faces Colombia on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. 
  • Colombia sits 12th in the FIFA world rankings, two spots above Uruguay.  
  • Like Argentina, Uruguay has won the Copa América on 15 occasions, with its last title coming in 2011. Colombia’s lone Copa América championship was won on home soil in 2001. 
  • The winners of both semifinals advance to the Copa América final on Sunday at 8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. The semifinal losers will meet in the third-place match on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT in Charlotte.

A second shot at glory for Canada

Canada’s Copa América debut ended in bitter disappointment, as it lost 2-0 to Argentina on June 20 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium before a raucous crowd of 70,564.  

The Concacaf upstarts valiantly played toe-to-toe with the World Cup champions for 90 minutes and caused them plenty of fits with their brave attacking play and outstanding goalkeeping from Maxime Crépeau. Since then, the Canadians have gone from strength to strength in the tournament, winning over Peru and drawing vs. Chile in the group stage before holding their nerve in a penalty shootout victory over Venezuela in the quarter-finals. 

Tuesday’s rematch offers Canada a second chance at glory against Argentina. Canada advancing to the finals of Copa América would’ve been inconceivable at the start of the tournament, especially as newly-hired coach Jesse Marsch only took over in May and didn’t have a lot of time to work with the team.  

But in a short period, Marsch has galvanized his squad, which has benefited from some outstanding performances. The new central defensive partnership between Moïse Bombito and Derek Cornelius has looked solid in anchoring the back line. Crépeau has routinely come up with big saves at critical junctures in matches. Nova Scotia-born winger Jacob Shaffelburg nicknamed the “Maritime Messi,” has emerged as one the breakout stars of the entire competition. 

Canada has also shown great resolve and focus during a difficult run to the semifinal that included having to overcome brutal heat, cynical physical tactics from Peru and Chile, and dodgy refereeing decisions that didn’t go its way. They’ve made everybody stand up and take notice of them at the Copa América after earning newfound respect.

At the same time, there are issues going into this clash against Argentina. Canada has only scored twice at the tournament and has been rather wasteful in front of goal across its four games. Jonathan David (one of the team’s goal scorers), fellow forward Cyle Larin and Alphonso Davies have all wasted glorious scoring opportunities. The Canadians can’t afford to lack that same ruthlessness in front of goal against Argentina. 

And speaking of the World Cup holders, La Albiceleste went a perfect 3-0 in the group stage with a trio of shutout wins before getting a bit of a scare in the quarter-finals. A goal by Ecuador deep into injury time forced the game into a penalty shootout, which Argentina eventually won, even after Lionel Messi failed to convert his attempt.  

Messi has yet to score at this tournament, but he’s been an influential figure for his country at the Copa, and he had a hand in setting up both of Argentina’s goals in its group-stage win over Canada.

“We didn’t do well enough with Messi last game… We know limiting his space is the number one thing,” Marsch told the media on Monday. 

Previous meetings

Prior to last month’s group stage match, Canada’s only previous meeting against Argentina came in a 5-0 loss in a friendly on May 24, 2010, in Buenos Aires. 

Maxi Rodriguez (a brace), Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero scored for the hosts that day. 

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today