Argentina shows its class in 2-0 win over gutsy Canada in Copa America semifinal

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Goals by Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez lifted top-ranked Argentina past Canada as the star-studded South American side showed its pedigree in a 2-0 win in the Copa America semifinal on Tuesday.

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Despite the loss, the 48th-ranked Canadians did not disappoint before a lively crowd of 80,102 on a hot, humid night at MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets, as well as the venue for the 2026 FIFA World Cup final.

The loud crowd was largely clad in Argentina blue although there were pockets of red. They saw a gutsy performance from Canada, albeit one lacking in clinical finishing, and pure class from Argentina, whose passing and buildup were straight out of a video game at times.

The Canadians also fell 2-0 to Argentina when they met in the June 20th tournament opener in Atlanta. Argentina thumped Canada 5-0 in their only other meeting, in May 2010 in Buenos Aires in the Argentines’ final warm-up before the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

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Messi and the Argentines will play either No. 12 Colombia or No. 14 Uruguay, who meet Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., in Sunday’s championship game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“It’s insane what this team has done, what the Argentina national team is doing,” Messi said. “For those who remain from the old guard, it’s beyond impressive that the national team is in another final.”

Canada heads to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte for Saturday’s third-place game.

Argentina showed its quality, content to stroke the ball around and then change gears in an instant when it saw an opening in Canada’s defence.

And despite a positive start, Canada fell behind in the 22nd minute on Argentina’s first shot on target. The Canadian defence was carved open by a long pass from Rodrigo De Paul that Alvarez controlled with a fine first touch before outmuscling Moise Bombito and slipping a shot through goalkeeper Max Crepeau’s legs.

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Coach Jesse Marsch and the Canadian bench were irate, believing a foul by Argentina’s Nicolas Tagliafico — who steamrollered Richie Laryea as he tried to corral Crepeau’s goal kick, allowing the South Americans to win possession — had been missed before the goal. Eight touches later the ball was in the Canada net.

But Chilean referee Piero Maza was letting the teams play, much to Marsch’s displeasure. The Canada coach eventually received a caution in the 77th minute for voicing his displeasure with the officiating.

Messi made it 2-0 in the 51st minute with a slight redirect of an Enzo Fernandez shot through traffic after Canada failed to clear the ball. Canada had eight defenders in front of Crepeau in its penalty box but could not snuff out the threat.

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The goal survived a video review check for offside with Messi getting the green light for his first goal of the tournament and his 14th in career Copa America play.

Canada captain Alphonso Davies had to leave in the 71st minute after being injured in a hard tackle by Gonzalo Montiel that went unpunished.

There was some bad blood late in the game, with Argentina upset at Canadian midfielder Ismael Kone petulantly kicking the ball into one of their fallen players.

MetLife Stadium’s temporary grass surface appeared heavy, with water splashing and sand popping up during dribbles.

“It’s has been a very difficult Copa America, very competitive, bad surfaces, excessive heat,” Messi said.

The Canadian men were looking to reach their first tournament final since the 2000 Gold Cup when they upset Colombia to win the CONCACAF crown.

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Canada, the last survivor of the six CONCACAF guest teams, is making its Copa debut. The Canadian men beat No. 99 Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 in a March playoff to make the 16-country field — as the 11th-ranked team at the tournament.

It has been an eventful competition for the Canadian side under Marsch, the 50-year-old American who has infused his new team with youth and confidence as well as a new skipper in Davies.

Crepeau has established himself as Canada’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Bombito and Derek Cornelius have become the heart of the defence while speedy winger Jacob Shaffelburg has had a breakout tournament.

There have been challenges.

Bombito was the victim of online racial abuse after a hard tackle on Messi in the tournament opener. And winger Tajon Buchan broke his leg in training.

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Marsch made just one change to the starting 11 that beat Venezuela with Kone who scored the decisive penalty in the shootout after coming in on off the bench, slotting in for Jonathan Osorio.

Canada looked to restrict the Argentines with its press from the get-go, coming forward with two early counterattacks that saw Shaffelburg fire shots off-target.

Messi shot just wide in the 11th minute on an Argentine counterattack. And the ever-dangerous Argentina captain just missed again with a low shot late in the first half, followed by an attempted chip over Crepeau in stoppage time.

Argentina ’keeper Emiliano Martinez, sporting an Argentina flag dyed into the side of his hair, was called into action in the dying seconds of the half after Jonathan David got to an Alistair Johnston long throw-in, poking the ball toward goal from close range.

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For the second game in a row, Argentina kept Canada waiting to start the second half. After Canada went down 2-0, Crepeau was called into action again to stop Alvarez.

Ali Ahmed, Liam Millar, Tani Oluwaseyi, Mathieu Choiniere and Osorio came on for Canada in the second half. The subs helped spark the offence with Canada threatening the South Americans as the clock wound down.

Oluwaseyi had two good chances in the dying minutes, with an acrobatic Martinez managing to get his body in front of the first shot in the 89th minute. The Canadian sub then saw his header just go wide.

Argentina came into the semifinal having lost just once in 18 games (16-1-1) since defeating France via penalty shootout in the World Cup final in December 2022. The one loss during that run was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in World Cup qualifying in November. And the draw turned into the penalty shootout win over No. 30 Ecuador last time out.

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That didn’t deter Canadian rapper Drake from placing a $300,000 bet on Canada to win, a wager returning $2.88 million if successful. Drake posted the betting slip online, as he often does with his wagers.

After losing to Argentina in the tournament opener, Canada beat No. 31 Peru 1-0 and tied No. 40 Chile 0-0 to finish second in Group A behind the Argentines. The Canadians then beat No. 54 Venezuela in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinal.

Argentina is seeking its third major crown after the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup. The Argentines are tied with Uruguay for most Copa America titles with 15.

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