Lionel Messi scores as Argentina advance to Copa America final after beating Canada 2-0

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Reigning champions Argentina advanced to the Copa America final on Tuesday at MetLife Stadium, ending Canada's Cinderella run with a 2-0 win as Lionel Messi scored his first goal of the tournament.

Argentina's opener came in the 22nd minute courtesy of Julian Alvarez. Rodrigo de Paul played a long pass from around the midfield line and did well to spot Alvarez, whose well-timed run allowed him to finish from close range and score his second goal of the competition.

The reigning champions added a second in the 51st minute when Messi ended his goalless run at the Copa America. Argentina earned a set piece and the ball eventually fell to Enzo Fernandez, who sent the ball towards goal. Messi got a tiny touch on it from close range just before the ball went in and though the goal required a VAR check, it was eventually given.

Argentina lived up to the billing as the heavy favorites in this semifinal, even though the first 20 minutes of the match were dominated by end-to-end action. Quickly enough, though, it looked as if the energy was drained out of Canada despite the excitement of the occasion.

Messi and company will have the opportunity to win back-to-back Copa America titles on Sunday, where they will play the winner of Uruguay's semifinal against Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium.

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FT: ARG 2, CAN 0

Canada's Cinderella run officially comes to end in New Jersey, the mismatch between them and Argentina clear as day for a majority of the 90 minutes. The reigning champions were obviously the better side throughout and so they book a spot in their second.consecutive Copa America final, though after making it to Miami on the easy side of the bracket, there might be plenty of questions about how they can stack up when it's time to face a juggernaut like Uruguay or Colombia.

 
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Larin takes a shot

88' Canada keep going for goal, mostly to no avial since the fatigue has clearly set in and the plays keep fizzling out. A giveaway, though, affords Larin a huge shot at goal but Martinez is up for the task and makes a kick save to keep his clean sheet.

 
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Canada go for goal

79' They might be down two goals and are playing without their captain, but Canada have mustered several runs at goal in the last few minutes. Kone gets a pair of shots to show for it, though neither seem to cause too much trouble. This could be the start of something promising for Canada, who are now trying to keep their hopes of making the final alive with roughly 10 minutes plus stoppage time (expect their to be plenty) on the clock.

 
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Alphonso Davies can't continue

58' The teams return to play with Canada down to 10. Davies tries to come back on but is in pain as soon as he attempts to return to the game and it seems like a substitution is imminent. This is Canada's last sub window and they have two left so it appears Marsch will make both of them now.

 
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Alphonso Davies on the ground

66' We have another stoppage in play, this time after Montiel tackles Davies. It appears to be a clean tackle but Davies gets tangled in it, which forces him to immediately call for the medical team. It appears he's receiving treatment on his right leg but there's no word on whether or not he needs to come off.

 
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Eustaquio booked

62' Eustaquio fouls De Paul and the Argentia player goes to ground, forcing his teammates to rush towards him and a stoppage of play. De Paul is on the ground for a little while but the medical team have not been encouraged to come over. After a couple of subs, we're back in action.

 
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ARG 2, CAN 0

51' At long last, Messi's first goal of the tournament comes. Argentina earn a set piece and though Canada try to drive the ball away from the penalty area, Fernandez takes a shot from inside the 18 and Messi gets the littlest flick on the ball. There's a lengthy VAR review but he gets credit for the goal to bolster Argentina's lead.

 
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50' Goal Argentina! It's Messi!

2-0 for Argentina! The World Cup champs do well down the right side as Rodrigo de Paul delivers a ball in that finds Enzo Fernandez, and the Chelsea man's shot on frame falls to Messi who redirects it in for the 2-0 lead! VAR checks for offsides, but he was on by a mile.

 
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46' Second half is underway!

The second half has begun as Canada must go in search of an equalizer. Already, Jesse Marsch is upset on the sideline with the performance of the center ref. 

 
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HT: ARG 1, CAN 0

This one started with end-to-end action but the game state quickly turned Argentina's way, who scored the game's lone goal courtesy of Alvarez. The energy seems to be evaporating from Canada, who may have run out of gas as they continue their deeper-than-expected run at the Copa America, but there's another half to go. It will be critical for both sides to actually find their finishing boots to put this game to bed, and they haven't been successful so far -- each team has just one shot on target, which is less impressive from Argentina considering they have eight shots to Canada's four.

 
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A corner for Canada

45'+2 It's been a while since Canada posed a threat in attack but David's header forces Martinez to make the game's first save. He forces the ball out for a corner, which Argentina survive with little problem.

 
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Nearly a second for Argentina

44' Argentina are slowly but surely racking up shots, the latest seeing Di Maria combine with Messi. He cuts in and has arguably Argentina's best shot since the goal, but sends the ball wide. Canada, after a strong start, are well and truly chasing this game, a hard task with tired legs and in a humid setting against anyone, but especially against the reigning world champions.

 
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Foul on Lionel Messi

39' Eustaquio kicks out at Messi and the star falls to the ground, but the referee is delayed in stopping the play. After a brief stoppage, he eventually pops back up and gets back to work. It's been a good day for Messi so far -- he's much more active than he was against Ecuador and has created two of Argentina's five chances so far.

 
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Signs of life from Argentina

34' Argentina have just had a couple of looks at goal, first with a shot from Di Maria and now an attempt from Tagliafico that goes out for a corner. Canada are able to steer clear of trouble on the set piece but it was not a good few minutes for the underdogs, who started bright but have had little to show for it since.

 
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Patient play

31' After an end-to-end start, things have clamed considerably since Argentina's goal. It's hard not to wonder if this is down to the fact that these teams are on their fifth game in less than three weeks, as well as the weather conditions -- it is awfully warm today in New Jersey, with the 71% humidity making it feel like 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This one might just become a slog (but hopefully not).

 
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ARG 1, CAN 0

22' Argentina score with the first shot on target of the game, courtesy of Alvarez. De Paul has the ball and is unbothered by Canada, allowing him to make a long, well-placed pass to Alvarez and his run means he can finish from close range. It's Alvarez's second goal of the tournament and his first came against -- who else? -- Canada in the opener.

 
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Alvarez hits it from distance

16' Crepeau is off his line and so Alvarez takes a shot from near the halfway mark, and though he does not pull it off because the ball goes over the goal, it wasn't a bad idea -- Crepeau was chipped by Rondon in their quarterfinal against Venezuela.

 
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Messi's shot goes wide

11' It has taken Argentina a little while to get a shot on the board, but they have it after Di Maria and Messi take advantage of a disassembled Canada.  Messi's the one with the shot in the end that sails wide of the net and though it doesn't land in the back of the net, it continues the entertaining start we've had so far.

 
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Canada nearly score

7' Canada seem unfazed by the occasion and the opponent and this time benefit from an Argentina turnover, and Eustaquio plays a strong pass to Shaffelburg. He gets around Monteil and has a decent opportunity but maybe doesn't get a great touch and so the ball rolls a little bit wide of the goal.

 
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Canada shoots first

5' Larin combines with Shaffelburg, who makes his way towards goal and may have a decent opportunity but instead sends the ball over the net. It's not a terribly ouncommon occurrence for Canada, who had just two goals coming into today despite posting nearly six expected goals throughout the tournament.

 
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End-to-end action

3' It's early but both teams have demonstrated some attacking intent, with both teams making a run at goal already. Canada also have their first corner after Laryea makes his way to the endline but not much comes of it.

 
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First half underway

Argentina have possession of the ball to get things underway, marking the official start of the Copa America semifinals.

 
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A pro-Argentina crowd

To absolutely no one's surprise, MetLife Stadium seems mostly filled with Argentina fans. Loud cheers erupted as the reigning champions came out for warmups, and a similar reception is expected when they announced lineups later. Argentina arrvied for warmups several minutes after Canada did, resembling the delayed start to the second half caused by Argentina when the two sides met in the opening match of the tournament.

Head coach Lionel Scaloni was later suspended for a game, something that Jesse Marsch said he did not anticipate - or root for - despite complaining about the delay tactic a few weeks ago.

 
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Alphonso Davies in the lineup

Jesse Marsch names a nearly unchanged lineup for Canada, minus one change in midfield with Ismael Kone starting over Jonathan Osorio. To no one's surprise, their star Alphonso Davies stays in the lineup for another day. Here's a look at their team.

Canada starting XI: Crepeau, Johnston, Bombito, Cornelius, Davies, Kone, Eustaquio, Laryea, David, Shaffelburg, Larin

Substitutes: St. Clair, de Fougerolles, K. Miller, Waterman, Piette, Bair, Russell-Rowe, McGill, Ahmed, Osorio, L. Miller, Choiniere, Oluwaseyi, Hiebert

 
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Lionel Messi starts

Scaloni makes three changes from the team that started against Ecuador, including giving Angel Di Maria and Julian Alvarez the nod. One of the constants, naturally, is Lionel Messi, who makes his fourth start of the tournament. Here's a look at Argentina's lineup.

Argentina starting XI: E. Martinez, Monteil, Romero, Lisandro Martinez, Tagliafico, Di Maria, De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister, Messi, Alvarez

Substitutes: Armani, Martinez, Quarta, Paredes, Pazzella, Acuna, Rulli, Palacios, Gonzalez, Lo Celso, Garnacho, Rodriguez, Otamendi, Carboni, Lautaro Martinez, Molina

 
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How they got here

It has been a fairly straightforward run to the semifinals for Argentina, who easily topped Group A with three wins out of three. They outscored their opponents -- Canada, Chile and Argentina -- five to zero, with Lautaro Martinez scoring four times and earning himself a starting role in the process. The team seemed poised for a simple victory over Ecuador in the quarterfinals until the opposition scored a late equalizer, forcing Argentina to win a peanlty shootout after an evenly contested match.

As for Canada, they survived a 2-0 loss to Argentina in their opener before earning a 1-0 win over a 10-man Peru and tying 0-0 with a 10-man Chile. They took an early lead against Venezuela in the quarterfinals but rued their wasted chances and conceded a stellar equalizer before winning the penalty shootout.

 
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Lionel Messi's fitness

Lionel Messi has played all but one of Argentina's games so far at the Copa America, but minor injuries seems to linger over his Copa America campaign so far. He has visibly looked a little off and as a result has just one assist at the competition so far, but he has not exactly taken a back seat by ranking third at the Copa America for chances created. Head coach Lionel Scaloni said the star is expected to be on the pitch -- and play a major role -- against Canada.

  • Scaloni: "Leo is okay, he's doing okay and tomorrow he's going to be playing. He's going to be on the field and we are calm with that."
 
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The perks of an expanded Copa America

CONMEBOL brought their usual 12-team competition to North America and expanded the field to 16, inviting Concacaf's sides to qualify for the event. After six teams competed and two advanced out of the group stage, one North American team remains -- Canada. While it's invaluable experience for the North American teams, Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico said it's just as helpful for their South American counterparts.

  • Tagliafico: "I believe that this tournament has been a clear example of how competitive the teams are and I don't think it would be bad to keep on having this kind of tournament with a greater number of teams because we usually end up playing against the same teams so it makes it more competitive when more teams join."
 
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Jesse Marsch is on familiar terrain

Jesse Marsch may only be six games into his spell as Canada's head coach, but he will have the chance to make one of the biggest statements of his career in a familiar setting: New Jersey. Marsch played college soccer at Princeton University in the early '90s, where he played for future USMNT head coach Bob Bradley for the first time. He returned to the Garden State in 2015 to coach the New York Red Bulls, where he impressed by winning two Supporters' Shields and using the gig as a launching pad for jobs in Europe.

  • Marsch: "For me, I was at the 1994 [World Cup] semifinal, Bulgaria vs. Italy, at the old stadium, here in the Meadowlands. ... This was a dream of mine, just to go to the semifinals of the World Cup. Now to coach in the Copa America [semifinal] here in New Jersey, in a place where I went to university, where i coached the New York Red Bulls, where a lot of my mentors and people that have had a big effect on me personally and professionally, to see them this week, to know that they're going to be at the match, to be here at this historic site, even in a new stadium -- it's a very historic venue -- is special. My mind is wrapped totally around giving our team a chance, to not just have a special experience but a real special victory."
 
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Advantage, Canada?

There is no doubt that Canada are the underdogs heading into this game, but head coach Jesse Marsch said the team is "calm and stable" despite the high stakes. Marsch also said the freshness of their last meeting helps to eliminate the newness of facing the world's top-ranked side, and argued that familiarity might be more beneficial to Canada than it is to Argentina.

  • Marsch: "You know Argentina's the best team in the world and you can show how aggressive they are, how sharp they are, how good Messi is. You can show a lot of the different qualities but until you're in the middle of it, understanding exactly what that is is not so easy. Now, of course, I think that there were things that we did well against Argentina and they're going to understand our strengths and our characteristics and they had a lot of things that they did well against us and I'm sure that they will try to exploit those things again but I think for us compared to them, knowing the quality and the level at which Argentina plays, it's more of an advantage that we were able to play than it was for them to play against us. That's how I would feel."

Marsch's desire to ensure this game goes differently than the last one is not lost on Argentina's Lionel Scaloni -- the head coach noted that their pre-tournament friendly against Ecuador, in which they won 1-0, shook out differently than their quarterfinal game against them.

  • Scaloni: "Against Ecuador, the game was completely different as we saw earlier. We had played a month ago or 20 days ago, so we are going to try to correct any mistakes that we made in order to be able to hurt our opponent. I expect that every coach, every team will have to do some things differently. We will always try to hurt our opponent by having possession of the ball and preventing them from deploying their own game, which is an interesting strategy."
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