July 14th, 2024

Canada ‘keeper puts on a show but Canada still falls to Argentina at Copa America

By The Canadian Press on June 20, 2024.

Argentina's Lionel Messi, centre, and Canada's Stephen Eustaquio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

ATLANTA – Canada held top-ranked Argentina scoreless in the first half but conceded a Julian Alvarez goal early in the second, eventually falling 2-0 to the star-studded South Americans in the opening match of Copa America on Thursday.

The 48th-ranked Canadians did not look out of place in the high-profile game. They had chances in an entertaining contest but seemed to rush their moments and could not convert.

World Cup champion Argentina just had too much class across the lineup.

“It’s a disappointing result,” said Canada captain Alphonso Davies. “We need to look at what we did wrong throughout the game and fix it as soon as possible.”

“We went after the game. We had our chances,” said Canada vice-captain Stephen Eustaquio.

The Copa curtain-raiser drew a large, vocal crowd to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the vast majority cheering Lionel Messi and Argentina. They saw goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who kept Canada in the game with a string of impressive saves, stop Messi three times.

Messi got the last laugh with a perfect pass that found substitute Lautaro Martinez behind the defence and the Inter Milan forward deftly slid the ball under an onrushing Crepeau for an insurance goal in the 88th minute.

Canada bent but didn’t break in a scoreless first half and kept Messi under control, although every touch from the Inter Miami star seemed dangerous. Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had to make an acrobatic save to block a Eustaquio header off a Cyle Larin cross just before halftime.

Argentina went ahead in the 49th minute with Messi threading a dangerous ball into the Canada penalty box. Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister got to it first but could not corral it and the ball squibbed to Alvarez, who had an open goal in front of him.

The Manchester City forward came close to scoring again a minute later but was denied by Crepeau.

Messi almost made it 2-0 in the 65th, sent in alone by a fine clearance from Emiliano Martinez. But Crepeau blocked his shot and Messi’s second attempt deflected off a defender.

Jonathan David almost had the equalizer for Canada soon after, but his header went over the bar.

Venezuelan referee Jesus Valenzuela, after consultation with the video assistant referee, opted not to award Canada a penalty in the 70th minute when substitute Jacob Shaffelburg went down.

A sliding Larin, with an Argentine defender crowding him, could not poke the ball home in the 75th minute. Messi just missed minutes later, with his delicate chip over Crepeau flashing just wide of the post.

Crepeau then stopped Lautaro Martinez.

Canada now heads to Kansas City to face No. 31 Peru on Tuesday before completing Group A play June 29 against No. 40 Chile in Orlando.

The 16-country tournament features 10 teams from South America and six guest sides from CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Argentina arrived at Copa America with a 13-1-0 record since winning the World Cup in Qatar in December 2022, outscoring the opposition 32-4. The lone blemish was a 2-0 loss to Uruguay in World Cup qualifying play last November.

Canada came into the game 6-4-4 since Qatar, with one of those ties turning into a penalty shootout loss to the U.S. at the Gold Cup.

MGM had underdog Canada at 9.00 to win prior to kickoff, meaning a $10 bet would return $80 in profit. Argentina was 1.32, meaning a $10 wager would return $3.20 in profit.

It’s the first Copa appearance for the Canadian men.

They were to take part in the 2001 edition in Colombia, part of their reward for winning the 2000 Gold Cup. But they never made it there with Canada Soccer sending its players back to their clubs when CONMEBOL, on the eve of the tournament, postponed the event for security reasons only to reinstate it days later.

Argentina has won the South American title 15 times, tied with Uruguay for most tournament wins, and finished runner-up 14 times. The Argentines defeated Brazil 1-0 in the 2021 final in Rio de Janeiro.

Davies, Derek Cornelius, Moise Bombito and Alistair Johnston manned the Canada defence. Eustaquio was joined in the midfield by Ismael Kone, Tajon Buchanan and Liam Millar with David and Larin up front.

It was the same lineup that coach Jesse Marsch used in a scoreless draw against France in a June 9 warm-up in Bordeaux.

The Argentine starting 11 featured five players from England’s Premier League, three from Spain’s La Liga, one from Italy’s Serie A, one from Portugal’s top flight and Major League Soccer’s Messi.

Messi set a tournament record by making his 35th appearance in Copa America play.

Argentina has not lost to a CONCACAF team at the tournament since 2004 when it was beaten 1-0 by Mexico.

Canada and Argentina had met just once before at the senior level, with the South Americans winning 5-0 in May 2010 in Buenos Aires in the Argentines’ final game before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Angel Di Maria, now 36, played in both games, scoring his first goal for Argentina in the 2010 match with a highlight-reel swerving shot. Former Argentina star Sergio Aguero, who also scored in that 2010 meeting, brought out the Copa America trophy before kickoff Wednesday.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Canada’s Victor Montagliani, who doubles as CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, were among the dignitaries shaking the players’ hands before kickoff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

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