Sports Plan Argentina and Canada clash again, this time for a place in the Copa America final

Sports Plan Argentina and Canada clash again, this time for a place in the Copa America final
Sports Plan Argentina and Canada clash again, this time for a place in the Copa America final

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Argentina and Canada, who played in the opening match nearly three weeks ago, meet again in the Copa America to try to make it to the final.

Beyond what is at stake, the current X-ray of the teams shows changes prior to Tuesday’s match in New Jersey.

Argentina began their title defence with a 2-0 win in Atlanta, thanks to second-half goals from Julián Álvarez and Lautaro Martínez.

It was not an easy victory, as the Albiceleste had to push themselves to break down Canada’s compact defensive block on a newly installed natural grass field that sparked criticism — “It looked like a trampoline,” complained Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez about the bounce of the ball.

Argentina is in the semifinals largely because of its goalkeeper. “El Dibu” added to his legend with the national team in the 4-2 victory on penalties over Ecuador in the quarterfinals by stopping the first two shots of the shootout — Martínez was 4-0 in shootouts in major tournaments (a pair at the Copa América and another two at the World Cup, including the final against France in Qatar 2022).

He saved an Argentina side that suffered greatly against Ecuador, drawing 1-1 in the 90 minutes of regulation time. Except for a brief period at the end of the first half, after Lisandro Martinez’s header, Lionel Scaloni’s team — especially its midfield — was tied up by the Ecuadorians and hardly created any danger.

More alarming was the almost non-existent contribution of Lionel Messi. Apart from having taken the corner that led to the goal by the central defender, the captain had very little influence after returning from a muscular injury and missed the first penalty of the shootout, after Kevin Rodríguez equalised in stoppage time.

Argentina survived and is now present in the seventh semi-final of its last eight major tournaments – the 2018 World Cup being the exception.

Canada, for its part, has gone from less to more.

It is astonishing to think that their coach Jesse Marsch only took over the reins in May, having reached the cup after a couple of friendlies against Holland and France. But in a very short time he has managed to consolidate a team whose great virtue is the speed of its full-backs and forwards, with Alphonso Davies as the great exponent.

After finishing second in their group ahead of Peru and Chile, the Canadians upset the predictions by beating Venezuela – who had a perfect first phase – 4-3 on penalties.

Canada creates chances but is too forgiving. In their first Copa America, they have exceeded expectations, scoring just two goals in four games, even when playing with numerical superiority against Peru and Chile. They should have saved themselves the penalties against Venezuela, as they wasted a torrent of opportunities on the counterattack.

“The game against Argentina will have to be the best game we have ever played and it still might not be enough,” Marsch said. “But whatever. We will try.”

In the run-up to the match against Ecuador, Argentina was concerned about Messi’s physical condition, specifically his right leg.

The 37-year-old star completed the full 90 minutes, but his lack of rhythm was evident.

“I don’t think he’s going to have any problems,” Scaloni said. “I kept asking him how things were going and every time I asked him he said he was fine and still on the court.”

Argentina needs Messi to be more focused when he steps onto the pitch at MetLife Stadium.

Scaloni’s starting eleven are expected to undergo changes after the poor performance in the quarter-finals. Having recovered from a physical problem, Marcos Acuña is likely to return to left-back. Leandro Paredes could return to the middle, replacing Enzo Fernández. Ángel Di María and Álvarez are expected to accompany Messi in attack after Nicolás González and Lautaro Martínez (scorer of four goals) did so against Ecuador.

Apart from the three Martínez players, the other standout player for Argentina has been Alexis Mac Allister. According to Opta, the Liverpool midfielder has provided two assists in the tournament, completing 122 of his 135 passes (70 in the opposition’s midfield) and will once again be tasked with supplying the ball to the attackers.

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