Copa America’s transplant to the US opens tonight in Atlanta with Messi vs Canada

June 20 – With all eyes still very much on Euro 2024, across the Atlantic in Atlanta the Copa America gets under way tonight with the opening game between Canada and two-time defending champions Argentina.

With the United States as hosts, the next few weeks sees North American sides take on those from Central and South America teams in a 16-nation bid to become the best team in the region.

In what is widely expected to be his Copa swansong, the tournament has been given extra spice now that Lionel Messi plies his trade in MLS.

Messi, with 108 goals in 182 games for Argentina, will be four days shy of his 37th birthday when the Albiceleste take the field against Canada at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The success of the tournament is vital given the fact that the USA hosts the World Cup with Canada and Mexico in two years’ time.

Eleven NFL stadiums are being used, including eight of the 11 U.S. venues for the World Cup. The final will be at Miami Gardens, Florida, on July 14, starting five hours after the European Championship final in Berlin.

Conmebol says more than 1 million tickets have been sold for the 32 matches. The 2016 tournament drew just under 1.5 million, and the 2019 tournament in Brazil about 850,000. The 2021 Copa was played mostly without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Copa America is essential to the growth of this group, and I believe this is a very important tournament for us as a team. This is the last major tournament before the World Cup. We’ll have Gold Cup, but the calibre of teams does not match Copa America,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter. “It is a building block in which to go into the World Cup confident.”

Canada head coach Jesse Marsch says he wants his team to be “fearless” when they face Messi and Argentina

Marsch, the former RB Leipzig and Leeds United manager, only took over the Canadian team last month and had two friendly matches in Europe to prepare for the tournament. His debut game in charge ended in a 4-0 loss to the Netherlands but there was an improved display in a 0-0 draw with France.

Marsch is looking to build on the progress made by his predecessor John Herdman, who took Canada back to the World Cup after a 36-year absence, but knows that facing the world champions and 15-times Copa America winners will be the ultimate test.

“We’ll try to be compact and then, you know, in our moments we’ll show our quality on the ball and we’ll certainly try to be dynamic in transition moments,” he said. “We think that that can play to our strengths. It’s a big challenge, but again, we’re excited. We don’t look at this as how good Argentina is, we look at it as an opportunity for us to grow, for us to be better and for us to prove to ourselves how good we can be.”

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