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COPA AMERICA

Messi, the Messiah as Argentina reach Copa America final

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Copa America 2024 - Semi Final - Argentina v Canada - MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States - July 9, 2024 Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Defending champions Argentina booked their place in the Copa America final after goals from Julian Alvarez and Lionel Messi gave them a 2-0 win over Canada in Tuesday’s semi-final in New Jersey.

Argentina will face either Uruguay or Colombia in Sunday’s final in Florida, a match that could represent the last shot at silverware for several senior squad members including Messi, Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi.

“Let’s enjoy what we are experiencing as a national team, as a group. It is not easy to be in a final again, to compete again to be champions,” Messi told TyC Sports.

“I’m living it as I have been living everything lately: enjoying it very much and being aware, as it happens to Fideo (Di Maria) and Ota (Otamendi), that these are the last battles.”

Argentina have won a joint-record 15 Copa titles and reached the final six times in the past eight editions but Canada caused them real problems in the opening 20 minutes, Jacob Shaffelburg twice shooting wide from promising positions.

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After soaking up the early pressure, though, Argentina went ahead when Rodrigo De Paul played through Alvarez, who ghosted in between two defenders to score with a tidy finish in the 22nd minute.

Argentina, 2022 World Cup winners and number one in FIFA’s rankings, gradually took control and Messi had a chance to double their lead in the 44th minute when he created space in the box with some silky footwork before lashing his effort wide.

Canada nearly snatched an equaliser against the run of play in first-half stoppage time as Jonathan David sneaked in ahead of his marker to get on the end of a long throw, but his close-range shot was hit straight at goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Messi had struggled with a muscle injury earlier in the tournament but appeared revitalised on a hot and humid evening at the MetLife Stadium.

He scored Argentina’s second in the 51st minute, sticking out a boot to divert Enzo Fernandez’s shot from the edge of the area past Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.

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The goal moved Messi to joint fifth in the all-time Copa America scoring charts, level with Peru’s Paolo Guerrero and Chile’s Eduardo Vargas, on 14.

His 109th goal for Argentina also saw him surpass Iran’s Ali Daei to take sole possession of second place on the all-time international scoring charts. Messi trails only Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 130 goals for Portugal.

Despite their two-goal cushion, Argentina had a nervy finish to the match as Canada substitute Tani Oluwaseyi tested Martinez with a crisp shot in the 89th minute before directing a glancing header wide a minute later.

For Canada, the defeat ends a remarkable run in which they defied expectations and performed better than their higher-ranked CONCACAF rivals Mexico and the United States, their fellow co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup.

“They’re the best team in the world, but at the same time we had our chances in the beginning of the game,” midfielder Stephen Eustaquio told Canadian broadcaster TSN.

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“If we scored one of our chances, the story of the game would probably have been different. To get here, the last four of the Copa America, it’s a big achievement.”

-Reuters

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

COPA AMERICA

Uruguay players clash with Colombia fans after Copa America defeat

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Uruguay players clashed with Colombia fans following their Copa America semi-final defeat on Wednesday before security personnel stepped in to restore order.

After Colombia sealed a 1-0 victory in Charlotte, North Carolina, videos on social media showed what appeared to be Uruguay players climbing into the stands and exchanging blows with opposition fans.

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL said it is investigating the incident and that it strongly condemns any acts of violence that affect football.

“Our work is based on the conviction that soccer connects and unites us through its positive values,” CONMEBOL said.

“There is no place for intolerance and violence on and off the field.”

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Uruguay’s Darwin Nunez and Ronald Araujo were among the players at the forefront of the melee. Captain Jose Maria Gimenez said the players were trying to defend their families.

“Let me say something before they cut you off because they won’t let us speak into the microphone, they don’t want me to say anything about what’s going on but this is a disaster,” Gimenez said on the official broadcast.

“Please be careful, our families are in the stands, there are little newborn babies. It was a disaster; there was no police and we had to defend our families.

“This is the fault of two or three people who had a few too many drinks and don’t know how to drink.”

Players and staff from both Colombia and Uruguay were also involved in a confrontation on the field after the final whistle.

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“I thought that the incident ended with some argument on the midfield and when I saw that happening I went to the locker room,” Uruguay coach Marcelo Bielsa said in a press conference.

“I thought that they were thanking the fans for their support. But then I learned that there were some problems over there unfortunately.”

Jefferson Lerma’s first-half header gave Colombia a place in Sunday’s final while Uruguay will play Canada in the third-place playoff.

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COPA AMERICA

‘The flame is dying out’ says Uruguay’s Suarez as retirement draws near

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East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Uruguay forward Luis Suarez (9) plays the ball in front of Bolivia defender Luis Haquin (4) during the second half of the Copa America match at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports/File photo

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez knows he is inching closer to retirement but the veteran player is hoping to enjoy the final stretch of a stellar career, no matter how many minutes he gets on the pitch at the Copa America.

Suarez is Uruguay’s all-time top scorer with 68 international goals and although the 37-year-old has only come on as a late substitute in two games at the Copa America – totalling eight minutes so far – he is not one to complain.

“I’m enjoying every moment very much. It is something that at my age, as you get older, you enjoy it more and more whether you’re playing a lot or playing a little, because you know that the flame of football is dying out,” Suarez told AUF TV.

“I’m just one more (player in the squad), you’ve already seen it. Playing or not playing, I’m happy with the part I’m doing and trying to help as much as I can.”

Once one of the most-feared strikers in Europe, Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone had described a crucial period in the 2020-21 title race as entering the “Luis Suarez zone”, when the striker’s experience guided them to their last league title.

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But with Uruguay set to face Brazil in Saturday’s high-octane quarter-final, Suarez is placing his confidence in the young players coming through the ranks to get the job done.

“I hope it (the zone) doesn’t appear in this Copa because that would mean that Uruguay is doing well and that it’s not necessary. If it’s needed, we’ll be there because we hope to write another chapter in the national team,” he said.

“This group gave a very big blow in the World Cup qualifiers by beating Brazil and Argentina. They earned that power on the pitch by showing that they can beat anyone… The time has come to prove it and it’s a great test for us.”

Suarez has also been mentoring 25-year-old striker Darwin Nunez, who followed in his footsteps by signing for Premier League side Liverpool and has scored twice in the tournament.

“I try to help as much as I can, I was in Darwin’s place, I was Darwin’s age,” Suarez said.

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“El ‘Loco’ (Sebastian Abreu) was the first to support me and today, being in that place, you have to be a motivation for him.”

-Reuters

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COPA AMERICA

Vinicius brace helps Brazil get first win in six competitive matches

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 Las Vegas, NV, USA; Brazil forward Vinicius Junior (7) reacts after scoring a goal against Paraguay during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Brazil’s Vinicius Jr scored twice in his side’s 4-1 Copa America victory over Paraguay in a Group D clash in Nevada on Friday, bouncing back from a lacklustre display in his first game of the tournament.

Colombia, who have qualified for the quarter-finals, top Group D with six points after two matches, with Brazil in second on four points.

Costa Rica are third with one point and Paraguay, who are bottom with zero after two defeats, have been eliminated from the competition in the group stage for only the second time since 2001.

This victory marked Brazil’s first win in six competitive matches and their maiden competitive win under the management of Dorival Jr, who took charge of the team in January.

From the whistle, Vinicius’ pace and trickery posed a constant threat to Paraguay down the left flank, a far cry from his performance in Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in their opening group stage match, in which he was largely ineffectual.

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Despite Brazil’s strong start, it was Paraguay who almost went ahead in the 15th minute as Damian Bobadilla’s goal-bound effort took a massive deflection off Eder Militao and nearly wrongfooted Brazil goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who showed quick reflexes to keep out the strike.

Brazil earned a 28th-minute penalty for a handball, which was fired wide by Lucas Paqueta, but the midfielder made up for his miss seven minutes later as he set up Vinicius with a first-time pass to cap off a flowing team move.

Girona winger Savio doubled Brazil’s advantage after pouncing on a rebound inside the box, before Vinicius stuck out a boot to divert a clearance from Omar Alderete into the net for his second goal of the night in first half stoppage time.

Paraguay got a goal back after the break as Alderete netted a superb long-range, but any hopes of a comeback were swiftly dashed when Brazil were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute after a handball by Mathias Villasanti.

Despite his earlier miss, Paqueta stepped up and made no mistake at the second time of asking to send Brazil’s fans at the Allegiant Stadium into delirium.

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Towards the end of the match, tempers flared and Andres Cubas was shown a red card after kicking out at Douglas Luiz, with Brazil using their man’s advantage to comfortably see out the game and clinch the three points.

“In particular the first half, up to the 40 minutes, it was very even,” Paraguay coach Daniel Garnero told reporters.

“I think we created some opportunities. Unfortunately, in the three minutes we got a bit distracted and they scored two goals that made a great difference in the result. And Vinicius is an elite player, no doubt about it.”

Brazil next face group leaders Colombia in California on Tuesday, where a draw would be enough to secure qualification for the quarter-finals.

Paraguay face Costa Rica, who retain a slim chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, in Texas.

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-Reuters

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