Copa America 2024: Can Messi and Argentina continue their era of dominance?

By Sports Desk June 18, 2024

It took 28 years, but Argentina finally ended a long wait for a major international trophy when they triumphed at the 2021 Copa America.

Lionel Messi starred throughout that tournament in Brazil, which was played partly behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scoring four goals and laying on five more, though it was Angel Di Maria who proved Argentina's hero in the final, scoring the winner against the Selecao.

That triumph marked Messi's first piece of silverware on the international stage, while Argentina won a trophy for the first time since 1993.

It paved the way for Argentina to go from continental champions to world champions less than 18 months later, as Messi inspired them to glory in Qatar.

And now the world champions will look to cement this era of dominance by retaining the Copa America crown.

With the help of Opta data, we preview the key storylines ahead of the Copa America.

THE HOSTS

USA

This year's Copa will be held in the United States, which was also the host nation for the 2016 edition, which was won by Chile.

Like in 2016, 16 teams will feature at the tournament this year, with the USA one of six CONCACAF nations involved.

Gregg Berhalter left his role after the 2022 World Cup, but was then reappointed. While he has a talented group at his disposal, it does feel as though he cannot quite get the required level of consistency out of them.

The two sides of the USA were on show in their warm-up matches: A 5-1 hammering at the hands of Colombia was followed by a 1-1 draw with heavyweights Brazil.

In Christian Pulisic, the USA have an influential playmaker who comes into the tournament on the back of his best goalscoring season, having netted 15 times in all competitions for Milan.

Folarin Balogun has netted three times for the Stars and Stripes since switching allegiance from England, while Antonee Robinson, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah have plenty of top-level experience. But Berhalter has to find a way to put it all together.

THE FAVOURITES

Argentina

It is easy to see why La Albiceleste are the big favourites. They are the best team in the world, according to the FIFA rankings, and in Messi, they still have a player who is arguably the best in the world, even heading into his late thirties.

Messi has already been involved in 21 MLS goals for Inter Miami this season, and everything is set to revolve around him once again for Argentina.

 

As soon as he features for Argentina at this tournament, Messi will become the Copa America’s all-time record holder for appearances – he is tied with Chile great Sergio Livingstone on 34, as it stands.

Messi has scored 13 Copa America goals, which puts him joint-seventh on the all-time list, alongside fellow Argentina great Gabriel Batistuta. If he is able to replicate his four goals from the 2021 edition, then Messi could join Norberto Mendez and Zizinho at the top of the all-time charts – that is unless Peru's Paolo Guerrero and/or Chile's Eduardo Vargas were to net at least four times each to set a new record.

Since the start of the 2011 Copa, Messi has had 102 shots – more than any other player. Surprisingly, his conversion rate stands at just 10.78 per cent, which is the second-lowest out of any player to have netted at least five goals in the competition in that time.

With 15 titles to their name, Argentina are the joint-record winners of the Copa America, alongside Uruguay. They have played more Copa matches (201) and scored more goals in the tournament (474) than any other team, too.

They are clearly the team to beat.

Brazil

This Brazil is not exactly the vintage of the 1990s or 2000s. With no Neymar, there's less flair, and more streetfighter grit, in Dorival Junior's squad.

Vinicius Junior does provide a flavour of the archetypal Brazilian international, though, and he is set to be the Selecao's talisman at this Copa.

He comes into the tournament on the back of an exceptional season with Real Madrid, having scored 24 goals across all competitions.

Vinicius outperformed his 20.96 xG, while also providing nine assists and creating 56 chances for his team-mates.

The forward spent much of the domestic campaign playing down the middle for Carlo Ancelotti's team, whereas for his country, he is likely to play wide left.

Who occupies that centre-forward spot is perhaps up for debate. Endrick is a superstar in the making, though will Brazil's coach trust the youngster to lead the line from the off?

Gabriel Martinelli is better on the flanks, though could do a job if required. However, with no Richarlison or Gabriel Jesus, that striker position does seem a possible weakness.

There's no Casemiro, following his poor performances for Manchester United, but Douglas Luiz, Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta form a steely midfield trio with genuine quality.

With Ederson injured, Alisson is the clear number one, with Eder Militao and Marquinhos seemingly set to pair up at the back, with Gabriel Magalhaes and Bremer quality options in reserve, too.

They face Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica in their group, and despite their struggles in World Cup qualifying, they are still the favourites to top that pool.

Uruguay

Now under the guidance of the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa, Uruguay are being tipped by many to emerge as serious challengers in the United States. 

A hat-trick from Liverpool's Darwin Nunez helped them thrash Mexico 4-0 in a pre-tournament friendly last week, while they also sit second in the CONMEBOL 2026 World Cup qualification standings, having beaten Brazil and Argentina last year.

That latter victory makes them the only team to defeat La Albiceleste since they won the World Cup in Qatar. Messi and company have won the other 13 of their 14 matches as world champions.

Nunez, who ranked joint-fifth in the Premier League for total shots (108) and eighth for xG (16.39) in 2023-24, is an ideal fit for the all-action attacking approach favoured by Bielsa, while tireless midfielder Federico Valverde brings balance alongside enforcer Manuel Ugarte and the cultured Rodrigo Bentancur.

Luis Suarez, meanwhile, has received a surprise call-up despite not featuring in Uruguay's pre-tournament friendlies, having scored 12 goals and assisted five in 16 MLS appearances for Inter Miami this term.

Neutrals should expect entertainment from a side that leads all teams in South American World Cup qualifying for xG (9.05), but as is so often the case with Bielsa's teams, there are questions at the other end. 

Ecuador (4.52) and Venezuela (4.78) are among those to have allowed opponents a lower xG total in the CONMEBOL qualifiers than Uruguay (4.97 xGA), and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet can expect to be worked after usurping Fernando Muslera, who helped La Celeste finish fourth at the 2010 World Cup and win the Copa America one year later.

Panama and Bolivia look unlikely to offer much of a challenge in Group C, making Uruguay's final match against the United States vital. Should they top their pool, they will land on the opposite side of the bracket to the Group A victors, widely expected to be Argentina. 

Uruguay held the record for most Copa America victories outright between 2011 (their 15th title) and 2021 (Argentina's 15th). If we see Bielsa-ball in full flow, they could be contenders to reclaim their status as South America's top dogs.

Colombia

Colombia are the form team heading into the Copa America.

They are unbeaten in 23 games, winning the last eight of those, including hammerings of the USA and Bolivia in pre-tournament friendlies.

Luis Diaz scored one and set up another in that latter match - a 3-0 win - and he was the breakout star of the 2021 Copa America, scoring four goals to finish level with Messi at the top of the charts.

Those four goals came from a combined xG of just 1.0, with Diaz netting an overhead kick against Brazil in the group stage, and lashing in a supreme strike from outside the area as Colombia beat Peru in the third-placed play-off.

Diaz is Colombia's most potent goalscoring threat, but they also have James Rodriguez to rely on further back.

James' club career has become a nomadic one, but for his country, the former Madrid playmaker is a superstar once again under coach Nestor Lorenzo, who has made the 32-year-old the main man.

Having been left out of Colombia's squad for the 2021 edition, James will be eager to make up for lost time.

Colombia are more than just dark horses. They should be considered among the very best teams at this tournament.

THE BREAKOUT STARS

Endrick is the obvious pick here. The teenager looks set for stardom, and he'll be linking up with Vinicius, Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid next season. He has scored three goals in his last four outings for Brazil, including a late winner against Mexico earlier in June.

Alejandro Garnacho is now an established Premier League player, but he is only just finding his way for Argentina. He is yet to score for his country, but has stepped up in big moments for Manchester United this season, none more so than in the FA Cup final, in which he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Manchester City.

Colombia forward Jhon Duran  is reportedly of interest to Chelsea, and the Aston Villa attacker could be something of a wildcard for Lorenzo off the bench. His five Premier League goals in 2023-24 came from just 2.0 xG.

THE OPTA SUPERCOMPUTER SAYS...

As mentioned, Argentina are the clear favourites, with Opta's model handing them a 31 per cent chance of winning their 16th Copa crown.

Brazil, as would be expected, rank second - their win likelihood is 23 per cent .

Uruguay come in with a 13 per cent chance, ahead of the USA ( seven per cent ), Colombia ( six per cent ) and Mexico ( six per cent ).

Two teams - Jamaica and Bolivia, who are the worst-ranked side in this year's edition of the tournament - are given a zero per cent chance of winning the trophy.

Panama, who reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last year, can perhaps consider themselves hard done by to be given just a one per cent chance, however.

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    Minnesota United head coach Eric Ramsay is hopeful they can bounce back after conceding another late goal when they travel to Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

    The Loons are currently on a six-match losing streak, their worst such run in club history, which has seen them drop to 10th in the Western Conference.

    Minnesota conceded a 90th-minute winner against LA Galaxy last weekend, leaving Ramsay frustrated at being unable to snap their poor streak.

    "It's coming down to exceptionally fine margins and what's really tough at the moment is the performances aren't too big a problem, but it's at the end of a very tough month, so it adds insult to injury," Ramsay said.

    "I only take it one day at a time and try not to let the big picture loom too large. We're in a difficult period so we need to alter our expectations from what they were a month ago.

    "It's a good learning curve for me as a young coach, and a test to stay positive and hope the results don't influence the day-to-day so we can keep putting out a competitive team."

    Meanwhile, Houston sit two places and one point above their opponents, though their six-game unbeaten run was ended by a 3-2 defeat to Real Salt Lake.

    Their previous match against Los Angeles FC was postponed due to bad weather, so after an extended break, head coach Ben Olsen is looking to improve on that performance.

    "We looked a little bit unfocused, and I think we understood the task going into it, but on the pitch, we didn't, and I don't think I hammered that in enough," Olsen said.

    "We were lackadaisical, gave up poor goals, played into their hands. Not the greatest performance from us, but maybe we should've come away with something."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Houston Dynamo – Ibrahim Aliyu

    Ibrahim Aliyu has scored in back-to-back matches, taking his goal tally to a team-high six for the Dynamo this season.

    The Nigerian has scored at least once in each of the last five months dating back to March.

    Minnesota United – Teemu Pukki

    Teemu Pukki scored his 13th MLS goal in Minnesota's defeat to LA Galaxy on Sunday. Six of Pukki's 13 goals have been scored in four career matches against the Galaxy, while he has scored seven times in his other 26 MLS appearances in total.

    MATCH PREDICTION: HOUSTON DYNAMO WIN

    Houston have won two of their last three meetings with Minnesota in all competitions (lost one), including a 2-1 road win on April 13, after losing the previous six meetings. The Dynamo have never completed a single-season league double over Minnesota before.

    However, Houston have won only four of their last 14 regular-season matches (drawn five, lost five), dating back to mid-April after winning four of their previous five games (L1).

    Meanwhile, Minnesota have lost six straight matches for the first time in club history. The Loons had lost five of their previous 20 games dating back to the end of last season.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Houston Dynamo – 53.2%

    Draw – 24%

    Minnesota United – 22.9%

  • The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami? The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami?

    The stage is set for what could be Lionel Messi's international swansong, as Argentina face Colombia in Sunday's Copa America final in the forward's new home of Miami.

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    What's expected?

    Argentina began the tournament as favourites, being given a 30.8% chance of securing back-to-back titles for the first time since 1993 by the Opta supercomputer.

    The supercomputer is still on their side ahead of the final, giving them a 50.9% chance of winning the match in 90 minutes.

    Colombia are assigned a 25.4% chance of victory and a 23.6% chance of taking the game to extra time (which will take place if required after being scrapped for all other knockout matches) and potentially penalties.  

    Argentina have won their last two Copa America shoot-outs, against Ecuador in this year's quarter-finals and Colombia in 2021, though they have lost three of their last four finals at the competition on spot-kicks, versus Brazil in 2004 and Chile in both 2015 and 2016.

    Overall, Lionel Scaloni's team are given a 63% chance of lifting the trophy to Colombia's 37%. 

     

    Colombia will be featuring in just their third Copa America final (also 1975 and 2001), becoming the fourth team to reach multiple finals at the competition this century, after Argentina (six), Brazil (four) and Chile (two).

    Argentina have now reached the final at six of their last eight major tournaments (World Cups and Copa America). The only exceptions were at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Copa, losing to the eventual champions (France and Brazil) in both instances.

    Colombia have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Argentina (five draws, six defeats) – a 2-0 group-stage win at the 2019 Copa America. The teams' last draw led to Colombia losing on penalties in the 2021 Copa quarter-finals, with Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona all unsuccessful from 12 yards.

    The teams have met on 15 previous occasions in the Copa America, with Argentina recording seven wins to Colombia's three and the remaining five being drawn.

    Fitting farewell for the GOAT?

    Sunday's final could very well be the end of an era, with arguably the greatest footballer of all time contemplating international retirement after the match.

    While there are plenty stateside who are desperate to see Messi continue his glittering Argentina career until the 2026 World Cup, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said this week he is fighting his "last battles" on the international stage.

    Having led Argentina to glory at the 2021 Copa and the Qatar World Cup, Messi could go out on a high by inspiring his country to three straight major tournament successes, a feat they only previously achieved by winning three consecutive Copas in 1945, 1946 and 1947, with the World Cup not held during that time.

    It took him a while, but Messi finally got up and running at this year's Copa with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 semi-final victory over Canada, converting his 12th shot of the tournament.

     

    He has now scored at six different editions of the Copa America, matching the record set by Zizinho all the way back in 1957. Messi has netted at the 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2024 editions, only failing to get on the scoresheet in 2011.

    His semi-final strike came 17 years and one day after his first Copa America goal, versus Peru in 2007. That gap is the longest between goals for a single player in the tournament's history, breaking another record previously held by Zizinho (15 years and 52 days between 1942 and 1957).

    Another trophy on Sunday would enable him to end what had previously been a disappointing Argentina career with a perfect run of three tournament triumphs.

    There is also the small matter of another international trophy pulling him clear of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016 and in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League but now looks unlikely to add to that collection. 

    Cafeteros the Copa's best?

    Argentina may have star quality unmatched by any of their South American rivals, but they were made to work for knockout successes against Ecuador and Canada. Many would argue they have not been the tournament's outstanding team.

    That honour may go to Colombia, who topped Group D ahead of Brazil before dumping out Uruguay – considered second-favourites for the trophy by some – in the semi-finals.

    Nestor Lorenzo's team did not even require a full complement to overcome La Celeste, standing firm after Daniel Munoz's first-half red card as Jefferson Lerma's earlier header proved decisive. 

    Lerma's goal was Colombia's fifth to come via a header at this tournament, the most by a team at a single edition since Argentina netted six times via that route in 1991, when they lifted the trophy.

    Colombia's aerial prowess has been another string to their bow at a tournament where they have been extremely efficient in attack, scoring a competition-high 12 goals from 8.49 expected goals (xG), a tally that puts them second to Argentina (11.1). Colombia rank just sixth for touches in the penalty area (104) but third for shots from inside the box (59).

    Only conceding twice, Lorenzo's side have also been solid at the back – a recipe for tournament success. 

     

    Per game, they have averaged a tournament-low 0.51 expected goals against (xGA), as well as 9.6 shots faced (the third-best figure) and 2.2 shots on target faced (second-best). 

    That solid backline has given James and Luis Diaz the platform from which to make things happen, with the duo ranking third and fourth, respectively, for expected assists (xA) among all players at the competition. 

    Miserly at the back and with two of the competition's most creative players in attack, Colombia will back themselves to spoil Messi's Miami party.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Angel Di Maria

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    Colombia – James Rodriguez

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  • Canada v Uruguay: Marsch hopes Copa America campaign 'inspires the nation' Canada v Uruguay: Marsch hopes Copa America campaign 'inspires the nation'

    Jesse Marsch hopes Canada's memorable Copa America debut changes the trajectory of football in the country, as they look to cap their campaign with a bronze medal against Uruguay.

    Canada's first appearance at the tournament saw them reach the semi-finals, a memorable penalty shoot-out victory over Venezuela teeing up a meeting with Argentina.

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    Marsch, who was only appointed a few weeks before the tournament began, hopes their campaign will be a catalyst for further improvement ahead of a home World Cup in 2026.

    "We want to inspire the nation," Marsch said one day after Canada's semi-final defeat. "We want to develop the sport in this country.

    "We want people to remember this as a moment in time that changed the trajectory of what this sport is in Canada.

    "We're establishing things at some high levels. But in order to be a real team that can hold up to the biggest moments and biggest matches, there's more work to be done.

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    Marsch added he will make changes to his lineup in North Carolina, with Alphonso Davies a doubt after he suffered an injury to his left foot.

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    Daniel Munoz was sent off on the stroke of half-time after Jefferson Lerma had headed Colombia into the lead, but Uruguay were outshot seven to six while a man up despite enjoying 73% of the possession.

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    "In that context, we created scoring chances and the ones we conceded were generated by some concessions from us. 

    "Eleven against eleven, for us, it was easier to attack, and we had to defend. In the second half, playing with an extra man, it was much more difficult to attack, and we practically didn't have to defend."

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    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Canada – Jonathan David

    Canada had 25 touches in Argentina's penalty area in their semi-final, 12 more than the world champions, yet they only managed five shots from inside the box to their opponents' seven.

    If they are to cap a historic campaign with a medal, they may need David to make some of those openings count.

    David has underperformed his expected goals figures at this tournament, netting once from chances valued at 1.58 xG. No Canada player has attempted more than his seven shots, three of which have hit the target.

    Uruguay – Darwin Nunez

    Nunez has attempted more shots (20) than any other player at this edition of the Copa America, with his total of 2.59 xG only bettered by Argentina's Lautaro Martinez (2.91).

    While the Liverpool man has two goals to his name, they both came in the group stage, and he has only hit the target with five of his 20 attempts.

    Among all players to net at this year's tournament, only three have a worse shot accuracy than Nunez's 33% (excluding blocks), but a profitable game here could even put him back in the race for the Golden Boot. 

    MATCH PREDICTION: URUGUAY WIN

    Uruguay have participated in the third-place play-off at the Copa America on three previous occasions, beating Colombia 2-1 in 2004, drawing 2-2 with Honduras in 2001 (then losing on penalties) and suffering a 3-1 defeat to Mexico in 2007.

    A victory in North Carolina would make this Uruguay's joint-second best Copa campaign of the 21st century, after they won the title in 2011.

    They have only lost four of their 15 Copa America matches against Concacaf opponents, though they are winless in their last three such games in the knockout rounds, losing 3-1 to Mexico in the the 2007 third-place match, and drawing 2-2 with Honduras in the 2001 edition after losing 2-1 to Mexico in the semi-finals.

    Canada are aiming to become the third Concacaf country to finish third in the competition after Mexico (1997, 1999 and 2007) and Honduras (2001). 

    A victory would make this the second-best campaign by a non-CONMEBOL Copa America debutant nation, after Mexico took silver on their 1993 bow. However, Marsch's men are big outsiders.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY 

    Canada – 13.2%

    Uruguay – 70%

    Draw – 16.8%

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