Lionel Messi begins his latest quest for international glory on Monday when Argentina start their Copa America campaign against Chile.

Twice a losing finalist in 2015 and 2016 - each time to Chile - the Albiceleste came third at the tournament two years ago after losing in the semi-finals to Brazil.

While they did at least defeat La Roja in that bronze-medal match, those two penalty shoot-out losses were tough to swallow for Messi, who has been unable to match his remarkable club success for his country.

Only Uruguay (15) have won this tournament more often than Argentina (14), but their last title came in 1993 and they have lost four consecutive finals, having also been beaten in 2004 and 2007.

Argentina hold the records for both most goals scored (462) and most appearances (195) in the history of the Copa America and can at least feel buoyed by the fact they have not lost a match since that 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the last four in 2019.

They drew with Chile and Colombia in their most recent matches in World Cup qualifying, each time after taking the lead, but there appears to be a growing belief within the squad around coach Lionel Scaloni's ideas.

"The truth is the team is really well, the group is really well. We're getting to know each other more and consolidating the coaching staff's idea," Giovani Lo Celso said this week, as per Ole.

"As we know, all South American teams and matches are very difficult. It's all very balanced, very competitive and we know there are no easy games. It's going to be a very difficult group."

Chile's preparations were blighted by a foot injury suffered by Alexis Sanchez, with the Inter forward not now expected to be fit until the knockout phase.

They have only won three matches since the previous tournament and have only played three games this year under coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Still the go-to star for Argentina 16 years after his debut, this year's Copa America and the 2022 World Cup look like being Messi's final chances for international glory.

He might be turning 34 this month, but his powers remain imperious: he was directly involved in 50 goals (38 scored, 12 assisted) in 47 games for Barcelona in 2020-21. Only three players in Europe's top-five leagues managed more.

Chile – Carlos Palacios

An unknown at senior tournament level, Carlos Palacios will be familiar to some crowds in Brazil, having joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola this year.

Still awaiting a first start for his country, the 20-year-old could well be called upon in the absence of Sanchez as Chile bid to come through Group B games with Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina are unbeaten in their 28 Copa America clashes with Chile. Their 28 games are the most against a single opponent without defeat in their Copa America history.
- Chile's two Copa America titles came in consecutive editions – claiming glory in both the 2015 and 2016 tournaments.
- Argentina have beaten every single opponent in this year's Copa America more times than they have lost to them in tournament history.
- Chile made it at least to the quarter-finals in seven of the past eight editions.

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

Argentina left Juan Foyth and Lucas Ocampos out of their Copa America squad as Lionel Scaloni finalised his plans for the tournament in Brazil.

Scaloni made a last-minute adjustment as Bayer Leverkusen forward Lucas Alario was ruled out by injury and River Plate rising star Julian Alvarez took his place, .

The omissions of Foyth, who on Friday sealed a move from Tottenham to Villarreal, and Sevilla winger Ocampos, may be held up to scrutiny later.

However, Scaloni chose a 28-man squad packed with pedigree as Argentina attempt to conquer the Copa America for the first time since 1993, with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez giving the Albiceleste a formidable forward line.

Argentina face Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group B of the South American championship. They were due to be co-hosts of the tournament but COVID-19 factors saw it move to Brazil at late notice.

Alario had been included on the initial final squad list sent to organisers CONMEBOL, but he was eventually excluded due to the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the closing weeks of Leverkusen's season.

Alvarez, 21, did not feature on Argentina's provisional list of 50 players but was allowed to join the squad because of Alario's injury.

CONMEBOL said in a statement: "This Friday, June 11, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) informed CONMEBOL of the injury of Lucas Alario, a player included in the list of 28 summoned for the CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 that had been delivered on Thursday, June 10.

"Given this, the Argentine Football Association requested the replacement of said player and the inclusion in his place of Julian Alvarez, a footballer not included in the first instance in the preliminary list presented on June 1.

"Said request was approved by the CONMEBOL medical commission in accordance with the provisions of the regulations and after the delivery of Form 2 [substitution of injured players]."

Argentina squad for Copa America:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), Agustin Marchesín (Porto), Juan Musso (Udinese); Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Lucas Martínez Quarta (Fiorentina), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Lisandro Martínez (Ajax), Cristian Romero (Atalanta), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese); Leandro Paredes (PSG), Guido Rodríguez (Real Betis), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Angel Di María (PSG), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna); Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Sergio Aguero (Barcelona), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart).

Xavi is eyeing the Barcelona job and an opportunity to coach superstar captain Lionel Messi, insisting he is ready to work at Camp Nou.

Barca great Xavi has long been linked with the head-coaching role and he was strongly tipped to return to the club before president Joan Laporta opted to retain Ronald Koeman.

Xavi signed a new contract with Al Sadd in May, tying the 41-year-old to the Qatari side until 2023.

But Xavi, who held the record for most Barca appearances before it was broken by Messi this past season, has his sights set on taking charge at some stage.

"I am always on the market," Xavi said during a news conference on Thursday. "The club decided to continue with Koeman and I wish him the best.

"In these last four months, I have not had any contact with [president Laporta] or anyone from the board.

"I don't know when the moment will arrive but, for me, it would be a dream to return to Barca one day. I'm in no rush, honestly, but I hope it happens.

"I understand people may think I am not ready, but I want to make it clear that I am.

"I know the club, the environment... I am coaching at a professional level, not kids, and I feel prepared. People also criticised [Pep] Guardiola and [Zinedine] Zidane before they took charge at Barca and [Real] Madrid.

"But Koeman's the coach now and you have to respect that. I don't want there to be a permanent debate about that."

Xavi played alongside the likes of Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets at Barca, where he won eight LaLiga trophies and four Champions League titles among other honours.

"For me, it would be an advantage [to work with them]. I'm in a situation at Al Sadd where I am coaching players I played with and I think it helps, because you know them," Xavi added.

"What coach wouldn't want to train Messi? Who wouldn't want a joker up their sleeve like Leo, who can make the difference in 0.1 seconds? Physically he is still in good shape. He is still the best. It would be a huge privilege to coach Messi."

Xavi has guided Al Sadd to Qatar Stars League (2020-21), Qatar Cup (2020 and 2021), Qatari super Cup (2019), Emir of Qatar Cup (2020) and Qatari Stars Cup (2019) success since becoming coach in 2019.

Lionel Messi could spend the latter days of his career at Inter Miami in Major League Soccer – at least, the club's co-owner is "optimistic" such a deal could be arranged.

Messi's future has been shrouded in uncertainly for the best part of a year, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner attempting to force a departure from Barcelona last August.

While that did not come to fruition, with Messi unwilling to drag the club through the courts in an attempt to exercise an apparent get-out clause, his future has been a constant source of speculation through 2020-21 due to his contract expiring at the end of June.

Barca president Joan Laporta said this month that contract discussions were going well, with Messi seemingly happier at the club since the October resignation of Josep Maria Bartomeu and the previous board.

Although a move to Miami would seem unlikely at this juncture regardless of Messi's relationship with Barca, Jorge Mas, co-owner of the MLS side, sees no reason why an agreement would not be possible in the future.

"I am optimistic Messi will play in an Inter Miami shirt because I think it will complete the legacy of the greatest player in our generation and will meet with the ambitions of the owners of Inter Miami to build a world-class team," Mas told the Miami Herald.

Former Real Madrid, Manchester United and England star David Beckham is among the others to own a share of the MLS franchise and also serves as its president.

Mas says he and Beckham have certain ambitions regarding the calibre of player they want to see in Florida, and someone of Messi's reputation fits the bill.

He added: "David and I have been working really hard, we have aspirations of bringing the best players here and Messi is a generational player, arguably the best player of all time."

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni says his side deserved all three points after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 2-2 away to Colombia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

La Albiceleste had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes but were pegged back by Colombia with substitute Miguel Borja firing in a 94th-minute header.

The result leaves Argentina in second with 12 points from their opening six qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, but six points adrift of CONMEBOL leaders Brazil.

"When you think it's all done, no, it's not," Scaloni told reporters post-game. "We're leaving with one point when we deserved all three. Argentina deserved to win.

"Up until the 94th minute, what we were doing was really good and the last play gave them a point, it wasn’t deserved.

"We deserved the three points. I have to congratulate the players because they played a good match in the heat on a difficult pitch against a good opponent."

Argentina did have numerous chances to seal the win including two shots from Lionel Messi which were thwarted by Colombia keeper David Ospina, while Nicolas Gonzalez hit the post in the first half.

Colombia made three half-time substitutions while Luis Muriel was brought on at the half-hour mark to chase down the deficit, with the Atalanta forward netting a 51st minute penalty.

Argentina's Juan Foyth made an error in the lead-up to Borja's late leveller from Juan Cuadrado's cross although Scaloni refused to criticize him specifically.

"It's individual errors not defensive," he said. "The defensive play of the team was perfect up until that play. It was a specific error and nothing more.

"It's the last play and it changes the entire match. The rest of the 94 minutes and a half were perfect."

Argentina turn their attention to the Copa America which is scheduled to commence on Sunday, with Scaloni's team starting their campaign on Monday against Chile in Rio de Janeiro.

Miguel Borja scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Colombia came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Argentina in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Colombia substitute Borja produced a bullet header in the 94th minute to pinch a share of the spoils after Argentina had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes on Tuesday.

Goals from Cristian Romero and Leandro Paredes appeared to have Lionel Messi's Argentina cruising to victory, but Colombia pulled one back early in the second half via Luis Muriel's penalty.

Borja, who was one of three half-time substitutes for Colombia, produced the decisive late intervention, moving his side to eight points from six games in qualifying.

Argentina remain undefeated but have drawn three of their past four qualifiers, having collected 12 points from six games in total on the roar to Qatar 2022.

Atalanta defender Romero powered home a third-minute header from Rodrigo De Paul's set-piece for the visitors, who were two up early after the ball pinballed on the edge of the box, with Paredes producing a composed low finish.

It meant Argentina scored two goals before the first 10 minutes of a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 2011.

Argentina almost had a third inside half an hour when Colombia keeper David Ospina saved Lautaro Martinez's shot and Nicolas Gonzalez fired the rebound into the post.

La Albiceleste were forced into a first-half goalkeeper change after Colombia defender Yerry Mina clattered into Emiliano Martinez, who was stretchered off.

Daniel Zapata flashed a shot wide before the break for Colombia, who reduced the deficit after Nicolas Otamendi was adjudged to have elbowed Mateus Uribe, with Muriel sending substitute keeper Agustin Marchesin the wrong way from the spot.

Messi almost caught out Ospina with a curling 58th-minute free-kick, while the Barcelona superstar's crafty ball set up Martinez for a sharp chance too.

Colombia mounted pressure with Muriel shooting over after Borja's chest down, while another Messi shot forced a low Ospina save.

The hosts found an equaliser deep into injury-time when Juventus star Juan Cuadrado's right-flank cross found Borja whose header went in under Marchesin.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said La Albiceleste are preparing for the Copa America to go ahead amid uncertainty, though he still has concerns.

The Copa America is scheduled to get underway in Brazil on Sunday after CONMEBOL controversially removed Argentina and Colombia as co-hosts due to respective political and coronavirus issues.

Brazil were awarded hosting duties, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis, and Scaloni has already voiced his disapproval of CONMEBOL's decision.

Tite's Brazil are reluctant to host the showpiece South American tournament, with the squad set to shed more light following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

Argentina are also gearing up for a World Cup qualifier away to Colombia before their scheduled Copa America opener against Chile on Monday.

"We know what everyone knows, for now it is being played and we are aware of that," Scaloni told reporters, with Argentina out to maintain their unbeaten record in qualifying on the road to Qatar 2022.

"Now we are focused on the game with Colombia and after this we will surely focus on what is coming."

"We wanted to base ourselves in our training camp, they authorised it and for us it is a great peace of mind," added Scaloni.

"I don't know what will happen after the playoff games are over, but it is very important for us to stay at home.

"What will happen from tomorrow I don't know, we are calm. But the worrying aspect is still there."

Lionel Messi was on target as Argentina drew 1-1 with Chile in Thursday's World Cup qualifying fixture.

Messi – who also struck the woodwork on more than one occasion – converted a first-half penalty before Alexis Sanchez restored parity for Chile.

On Messi, Scaloni said: "Messi's always marked by two or three people. We are planning on doing something which we have not been doing in the last games. Hopefully we can do it.

"We will have to see what Colombia does. They are the hosts, they just won in a convincing fashion and we will see if they have the same team. Messi being marked is something that we assume."

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said "all the great players want to come to PSG" as he discussed the future of Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

Messi is set to become a free agent, with his existing Barca deal officially expiring on June 30 amid links to Ligue 1 giants PSG and Premier League champions Manchester City.

Barca remain confident Messi will renew at Camp Nou – president Joan Laporta repeatedly insisting the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner wants to prolong his stay.

Al-Khelaifi was asked about Messi and PSG's reported pursuit of the 33-year-old superstar.

"What I can say is that all the great players want to come to PSG," Al-Khelaifi told L'Equipe.

"It isn't possible to sign them all, because we already have great footballers in our squad. Having said that, Messi is Messi, a fantastic player.

"I have told [Barcelona president Joan] Laporta that [Lionel Messi's] contract is coming to an end and every club has the right to negotiate with him and can sign him for the next season."

Al-Khelaifi also hit out at Barca for their attempts to re-sign Neymar from PSG.

Neymar was continually linked with a return to Barca following his world-record exit in 2017 before extending his PSG contract until 2025 in May.

"Barcelona tried very hard to sign Neymar," Al-Khelaifi said. "Obviously, we rejected their advances.

"I think they club [Barcelona] have some financial problems, but that isn't our business. Barcelona have always loved Neymar, and that isn't a secret.

"Neymar didn't want to go there, even though he wasn't completely adapted to PSG or Paris. But if you call him now, he will tell you he is happy at PSG."

Lionel Messi said Argentina wanted to win a "very special match" against Chile in World Cup qualifying as Diego Maradona was honoured with a statue prior to kick-off on Thursday.

Argentina and Napoli great Maradona – widely considered to be one of football's greatest ever players – died at the age of 60 after suffering heart failure in November last year.

A World Cup winner with Argentina and two-time Serie A champion during his time at Napoli, Maradona was at the centre of a touching tribute as Messi and the La Albiceleste players gathered outside Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades to unveil a statue of the country icon before the 1-1 draw with Chile.

Messi's 24th-minute penalty was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez 12 minutes later in Argentina's first match since Maradona's death and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner reflected on the occasion.

"It was a very special match because it was the first without Diego," Messi said after the match.

"We know what the national team meant to him, even if he wasn't in the stadium, he was always there.

"For being the first without him and because of everything that is happening in the country and in the world. It is also a pity that there was no public.

"We wanted to give Diego the victory and represent the national team as he always did, leaving everything behind, but we have to continue."

Messi improved his internationally tally to 72 goals thanks to his spot-kick after Argentina team-mate Lautaro Martinez was adjudged to have been fouled by Chile's Guillermo Maripan following a VAR review.

Chile star Sanchez equalised before half-time to earn a share of the spoils, though Argentina remain undefeated through five games on the road to Qatar 2022.

Messi came close to restoring Argentina's lead on numerous occasions, including a free-kick that struck the post inside the final 10 minutes on home soil.

The superstar captain had the second most touches in the game (87) behind team-mate Rodrigo De Paul (106), while Messi recorded the most shots (five), created the most chances (two) and disputed the most duels (17).

"It has been a long time since we got together, it is not easy to get back together with little work," said Messi, whose Argentina are 12 games unbeaten as they gear up for the Copa America, which is scheduled to start on June 13. "We continued what we had been doing, at times we were good, we played a good game.

"We were good in pressure and recovery, they practically did not create situations If it hadn't been for the stopped ball, they were hardly reaching us. It was a difficult game, as always with Chile."

Lionel Messi scored as Argentina resumed their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Chile.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the football calendar, with the road to Qatar 2022 postponed due to the COVID-19 health crisis until Thursday's clash in Santiago del Estero.

Argentina hit the front behind closed doors through Messi's 24th-minute penalty after Lautaro Martinez was fouled by Guillermo Maripan.

Chilean star Alexis Sanchez equalised 12 minutes later but La Albiceleste still remain unbeaten through five games in qualifying.

While Chile had played a friendly in March, Argentina were returning to action for the first time since November last year – a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Peru.

With both nations also gearing up for the looming Copa America – scheduled to start in Brazil on June 14 – visitors Chile made a bright start in a physical opening, veteran forward Eduardo Vargas flashing a shot just wide of the post in the 15th minute.

That seemed to trigger Argentina, who went up the other end and earned a penalty. Maripan's challenge on Martinez initially went unpunished but the referee pointed to the spot after VAR recommended a review.

The outcome was predictable as Messi stepped up to convert, sending Claudio Bravo the wrong way for his 72nd international goal.

Argentina's lead lasted just 12 minutes as Chile responded through Sanchez, who made no mistake from close range after a free-kick was whipped into the back post and Gary Medel kept the ball alive by heading it across the six-yard box for his team-mate.

Messi also restored Argentina's lead in the first minute of stoppage time, but Chile goalkeeper Bravo made a fine save to thwart the superstar.

After a long domestic club campaign, the quality began to drop, though Chile looked the more threatening in the second half.

Just as Argentina looked off the pace and vulnerable defensively, Messi came within inches of putting the home side ahead after his free-kick struck the post inside the final 10 minutes.

 

What does it mean? Argentina extend streak

Not since the 2019 Copa America in July have Argentina tasted defeat. Scaloni's men are now 12 games unbeaten – dating back to the 2-0 semi-final loss to Brazil – with this year's scheduled Copa America looming on June 14.

Chile impress under new boss

Martin Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February and his first qualifying fixture should provide optimism among Chile fans. Having only won one of their four 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Chile took the game to Argentina.

Di Maria poor

Given a starting berth by Lionel Scaloni, Angel Di Maria had a chance to stake his claim ahead of the Copa America. However, the Paris Saint-Germain star did not have much of an impact and was withdrawn just past the hour.

 

What's next?

Argentina will continue their road to Qatar 2022 at Colombia on Tuesday, while Chile host Bolivia on the same day.

Speculation has swirled for months about the future of Lionel Messi following a season of change at Barcelona.

Barca have been busy already this off-season, signing Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Compatriot Aguero had implored Messi to extend his Barcelona stay, which dates back to 2000, and it seems the striker may get his wish.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI RE-COMMITS TO CATALANS

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is set to pen a new two-year contract with Barcelona, according to AS.

The Argentina forward has practically agreed to the deal, with only "structural details" to complete.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have both shown interest in Messi but he looks set to commit until 2023.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton are in the market for a new manager after Carlo Ancelotti's sudden departure and The Athletic reports they will consider Rangers boss and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. TalkSPORT claims ex-Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo is also on their radar.

- COPE claims that new Real Madrid boss Ancelotti will not push to recruit James Rodriguez from the Italian's former club Everton.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are in pole position in the race to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City. 

- The Sun also claims any potential Sterling move to Arsenal may scupper Manchester City's plans to sign Tottenham's Harry Kane , as they want to use the winger in a swap deal given Spurs hefty asking price.

- Manchester United are keen on Sevilla defender Jules Kounde but Barcelona have joined the pursuit for his signature, claims Mundo Deportivo.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has declared Lionel Messi wants to stay at Camp Nou as talks over a new contract continue.

The Argentine forward wanted to leave last August before agreeing to stay and reconsider at the end of his existing deal, which expires on June 30.

The captain and record scorer's public show of discontent at Barcelona's leadership led to links with the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who hoped to sign him on a free transfer.

However, the election of a new president in Laporta appears to have salvaged the 33-year-old's relationship with the club where he has spent the entirety of his professional career.

Amid reports a two-year contract extension is close to being agreed, Laporta has offered his most optimistic update yet.

He said: "Our talks with the agents of Leo Messi are going well. We hope they continue to progress. It's not done... but we know Leo wants to stay."

Barcelona's summer business has begun with two free transfer signings in the form of Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, both of whom have arrived from Manchester City.

They are expected to be joined by Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, whose respective contracts at Liverpool and Lyon are also up this summer.

This approach owes much to the club's latest financial results, which showed overall debt of almost €1.2billion.

However, Laporta insists Barca will still be able to renew Messi's deal, even as they look to make savings elsewhere.

He said: "The renewal of Messi does not depend on the audit. We are in talks with the agents of Leo and they are going well.

"We hope they continue to progress. What happens with Leo is not a matter of money, but a matter of the future and sports.

"He wants to continue with this idea because he wants a team that can help him win leagues, Champions [League] and titles in the short-term."

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gave Argentina vital time as they sought to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

Rather than an international tournament, Messi spent the last close-season negotiating his next move – which ultimately meant staying in Catalonia. His contract is up again in 2021, but the legendary forward must also negotiate the rearranged Copa this time.

Realistically, this tournament and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – the late Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds was a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core.

Goals in the early stages of World Cup qualifying this season have been slightly more sparse – six in four games – but Argentina have still taken 10 points to remain unbeaten, second to Brazil in the standings.

Lautaro Martinez has been involved in half of those qualifying goals (two goals, one assist) and has now firmly established himself as the number one option at centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing.

Going slightly further back, since Scaloni first took charge, the Inter star has 11 goals in 20 games – averaging one every 120.3 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 7.8. Messi has six goals at 193.7 minutes per goal from an xG of 8.0 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, as evidenced by that slightly more ordinary return, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has to date during his 100-game Serie A career (37 goals at one every 172.4 minutes).

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero – a regular until Martinez came to the fore – may still have a role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. But Scaloni has come to rely on new faces as he quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of three years ago into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties.

A pair of substitute appearances in November were Di Maria's first international outings since being dropped during the Copa. Paulo Dybala is fit again but seemingly now no longer even a bench option in the coach's eyes.

Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul, whose 122 completed dribbles led Serie A this season, while his 18 goal involvements (nine goals, nine assists) ranked joint-third among midfielders.

Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes has started alongside De Paul in each qualifier to date, and Giovani Lo Celso has two assists in just 159 minutes of international action this season.

Disappointingly, winger Nicolas Gonzalez has been dogged by thigh injuries since scoring twice in November. With a goal every 155.8 minutes in the Bundesliga this term, he had been one of those set to profit from the Copa's new date.

Selection has also been consistent in defence this season, but German Pezzella's ill-timed injury absence meant Lucas Martinez Quarta was the Fiorentina defender allowed to settle in the heart of the back line.

Pezzella – a stand-in captain for the national team not so long ago – remains the main man in Florence, playing 32 league games to Martinez's 21, yet his younger colleague averages more tackles (1.9), interceptions (2.4) and blocks (0.6) per 90 minutes.

It looks like a case of either/or next to Nicolas Otamendi and his frequent reversions to slapstick, although Atalanta duo Cristian Romero and Jose Luis Palomino are also both now in the mix.

Elsewhere, despite the new call-ups – Emiliano Buendia is another debut option but has been plying his trade in the Championship – Scaloni's reliance on a steady XI might hint at a lack of depth. When the Copa was delayed by 12 months, one of world football's heavyweights might have hoped for more than the development of Inter's second-best striker and a wealth of defensive options in the meantime.

Instead, the narrative remains frustratingly familiar: Argentina need Messi to fire.

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