Argentina and Canada Meet Again, Now With Their Eyes On the Final

Argentina and Canada
Argentina and Canada (Credit: Getty Images)

Argentina and Canada, who played in the opening match almost three weeks ago, will meet again in the Copa America to try to make it to the final.

Beyond what is at stake, the current X-ray of the teams shows changes prior to Tuesday’s match in New Jersey.

Argentina began their title defense with a 2-0 win in Atlanta, thanks to second-half goals from Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez.

“I imagine both teams will take note of the last game,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said Monday. “I do not feel that we have to play a different game. What we do is in line with our opponents. We can play better or worse, but we are competing at the level of the entire Copa America. It’s difficult for everyone to win.”

It was not an easy victory, as the Albiceleste had to push themselves to break down Canada’s compact defensive block on a newly installed natural grass field that sparked criticism — “It looked like a trampoline,” complained Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez about the bounce of the ball.

Argentina is in the semifinals largely because of its goalkeeper. “El Dibu” added to his legend with the national team in the 4-2 victory on penalties over Ecuador in the quarterfinals by stopping the first two shots of the shootout — Martinez was 4-0 in shootouts in major tournaments (a pair at the Copa America and another two at the World Cup, including the final against France in Qatar 2022).

He saved Argentina which suffered greatly against Ecuador, drawing 1-1 in the 90 minutes of regulation time. Except for a brief period at the end of the first half, after Lisandro Martinez’s header, Lionel Scaloni’s team – especially its midfield – was tied up by the Ecuadorians and hardly created any danger.

More alarming was the almost non-existent contribution of Lionel Messi. Apart from having taken the corner that led to the goal by the central defender, the captain had very little influence after returning from a muscular injury and missed the first penalty of the shootout, after Kevin Rodríguez equalized in stoppage time.

Argentina survived and is now present in the seventh semi-final of its last eight major tournaments – the 2018 World Cup being the exception.

Canada, for its part, has gone from less to more.

It is astonishing to think that their coach Jesse Marsch only took over the reins in May, having reached the cup after a couple of friendlies against the Netherlands and France. But in a very short time, he has managed to consolidate a team whose great virtue is the speed of its full-backs and forwards, with Alphonso Davies as the great exponent.

After finishing second in their group ahead of Peru and Chile, the Canadians upset the predictions by beating Venezuela – who had a perfect first phase – 4-3 on penalties.

Canada creates chances, but it is too forgiving. In its first Copa America, it has exceeded expectations, scoring just two goals in four games, even when playing with numerical superiority against Peru and Chile. It should have saved itself the penalty against Venezuela, as it wasted a torrent of opportunities on the counterattack.

“We earned the right to have another chance and we will approach it that way,” Marsch said. “We will be aggressive, we will not sit back and defend. We will try to play our game and see if it works for us. It will be a huge challenge for us.”

Waiting for Messi:

In the run-up to the match against Ecuador, Argentina was concerned about Messi’s physical condition, specifically his right leg.

The 37-year-old star completed the full 90 minutes, but his lack of rhythm was evident.

“Lionel Messi is doing well, he is fundamental for us,” said Scaloni. “That is enough. Leo is doing well, he will be part of the match tomorrow.”

Argentina needs Messi to be more focused when he steps onto the pitch at MetLife Stadium.

Changes are expected in Scaloni’s starting eleven after the poor performance in the quarter-finals. Having recovered from a physical problem, Marcos Acuna is likely to return to left back. Leandro Paredes could return to the middle, replacing Enzo Fernández. Angel Di Maria and Alvarez are expected to accompany Messi in attack after Nicolas Gonzalez and Lautaro Martinez (scorer of four goals) did so against Ecuador.

Apart from the three Martinez players, the other standout player for Argentina has been Alexis Mac Allister. According to Opta, the Liverpool midfielder has provided two assists in the tournament, completing 122 of his 135 passes (70 in the opposition’s midfield), and will once again be tasked with supplying the ball to the attackers.

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