Uruguay and Colombia look biggest threats to Messi’s Argentina as Copa America kicks off

Lionel Messi and his Argentina side
Lionel Messi and his Argentina side (PC: X)

Four days after the Copa America kicks off, with Atlanta facing Canada in Atlanta, Lionel Messi will turn 37. When, then, is he still playing, especially after the ultimate goal of ending Argentina’s decades of World Cup pain was achieved at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar in December 2022? Messi’s club career was over three years ago, the day he left Barcelona. Neither Messi himself or anyone else in his vast entourage will insult millions of fans by pretending that subsequent stints at Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Miami matter even half as much. 

The answer perhaps lies in the Albiceleste shirt. Messi was just joining the youth set-up at his beloved Newell’s Old Boys the last time Argentine won back-to-back Copa America titles under the stewardship of Alfio ‘Coco’ Basile. Victory in the USA this summer will establish this Argentine vintage as one of the great national sides of all time. Several teams have won their continental showpiece and the World Cup back-to-back. Winning three major titles in a row is a different story. Only the elite do that. 

And if any team can do it, Messi’s Argentina can. Of their 14 matches since winning the World Cup, they have won 13, while scoring 32 goals and conceding just two. The lone defeat, admittedly a worrying one, came at home in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay, part of the dramatic upturn in fortunes that their neighbours across the River Plate have enjoyed since Marcelo Bielsa – once Argentina’s maestro – took charge as coach last June. 

Messi (182), Angel Di Maria (140) and Nicolas Otamendi (112) all boast over a century of caps, and there are half a dozen others with more than 50. Other key individuals like Alexis Mac Allister, Enzo Fernandez and Julian Alvarez have also been around the team long enough to fit in seamlessly. It is a formidable side, and one that will take some beating. 

Their biggest rivals could well be Uruguay, who Bielsa has led to six wins in eight matches. The only less came at altitude in Quito, a venue where not many teams go and win. There was also a creditable draw in Baranquilla against a red-hot Colombia side. With Jose Gimenez wearing the captain’s armband at the heart of the defence, Uruguay also have a vastly experienced line-up. His performances with Liverpool may have been patchy, but with 11 goals from 23 appearances, Darwin Nunez is unquestionably the new attack leader. 

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Messi (PC: X)

Add in the class of Federico Valverde, Manuel Ugarte and Rodrigo Bentancur in midfield and the defensive prowess of Ronald Araujo – not to mention the 37-year-old Luis Suarez as a wild card – and this is a team that should at least reach the semi-finals. 

Colombia should join them there. You have to go all the way back to February 2022 for their last defeat, 23 games ago. The 18 wins since have included notable scalps like Brazil, Germany and Spain. James Rodriguez provides vast experience and nous in midfield, while Luis Diaz’s waspish forward play has helped others like Luis Sinisterra to hit the ground running. Jerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez provide the weather-beaten presence at the back, while Jhon Duran is an exciting addition to the forward line. 

And what of Brazil, whose Copa America record is vastly inferior to the other South American powerhouses? They are on to their third coach, Dorival Junior, after Tite quit at the end of the World Cup, and have lost five matches in the interim. Friendly reverses against Morocco and Senegal were followed by World Cup qualifying defeats away to Uruguay and Colombia, and at home to Argentina. 

The squad doesn’t lack for stardust, and you’d be an utter fool to write off a group that contains Alisson in goal, Bruno Guimaraes, Ederson and Douglas Luiz in midfield, and a strike force of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Gabriel Martinelli. And that’s without Endrick, the 17 year old who could well be the breakout star of the competition. 

Dorival Junior started with a 1-0 win at Wembley, and a 3-3 draw with Spain in Madrid, but it remains to be seen whether a side that has lost a wealth of experience in the shape of Neymar, Casemiro and Fabinho can gel together in time. In terms of talent, Brazil are right up there. As a team, they may well fall short, and have to watch Messi and Argentina dancing in the moonlight yet again. 

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