Published: 14:44, June 21, 2024 | Updated: 16:19, June 21, 2024
Argentina outlast spirited Canada in Copa America opener
By Xinhua
Argentina defender Cristian Romero (13) deflects the ball with a header, next to Canada midfielder Stephen Eustáquio (7) during the first half of a Copa América soccer match, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. (PHOTO / AP)

ATLANTA - Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez scored second-half goals as defending champions Argentina began their Copa America defense with 2-0 victory over Canada here on Thursday.

Alvarez sent an angled finish into the far corner before Martinez put the result beyond doubt by slotting home after Lionel Messi's pass.

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The final scoreline barely did justice to a spirited Canada outfit, who troubled the reigning World Cup winners for long periods of the first half and early in the second.

"It was a tough game against a team that is physically very strong," Albiceleste captain Messi said after the match at Mercedes-Benz stadium.

Argentina midfielder Alexis Mac Allister (20) reacts after being fouled by a Canadian player during the first half of a Copa América soccer match, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. (PHOTO / AP)

"They gave us very little space, particularly in the first half. But we moved the ball more quickly after halftime and knew that if we were patient and took control of the game we would get over the line."

Canada unsettled Argentina early with a high defensive line that often made it difficult for Messi and company to advance beyond the halfway line.

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Les Rouges also looked dangerous in attack and Jonathan David should have done better as he scuffed a shot wide after Alphonso Davies' overlapping run and cross.

Argentina almost broke the deadlock through Alexis Mac Allister but the Liverpool midfielder could only manage a tame header straight at goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau following Rodrigo de Paul's lofted pass.

Argentina forward Lionel Messi is fouled by a Canada player during the second half of a Copa América soccer match, June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. (PHOTO / AP)

Canada's best chance of the first half came when Cyle Larin delivered a sumptuous cross into the path of Stephen Eustaquio, whose header was kept out by Emiliano Martinez. The rebound fell to Davies, who had time and space but only succeeded in blasting his first-time effort over the bar.

Argentina emerged from the interval with renewed verve and they took the lead in the 49th minute in a move that started with Messi.

The Inter Miami forward's perfectly weighted through ball found Mac Allister, whose deft touch in traffic released Alvarez. The Manchester City forward showed his scoring instinct by pouncing and lashing a first-time effort into the far corner.

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Canada continued to press and Davies had a chance to equalize minutes later with a header that sailed over.

By now Argentina were also attacking with intent but were wasteful in the final third as Messi and Martinez both missed chances when they had only the goalkeeper to beat.

Martinez, who was a 76th-minute substitute for Alvarez, made amends two minutes from time by running onto Messi's pass and threading a shot between the legs of Crepeau.

Argentina's coach Lionel Scaloni (right) shouts instructions to his players from the touchline during the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Argentina and Canada at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 20, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni praised his team's ability to respond under pressure.

The reigning World Cup and Copa America champions withstood a combative first-half display from the 48th-ranked Les Rouges before second-half goals from Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez ended any chance of a shock result.

"The important thing is that the team always responds, no matter what the game is like," Scaloni told a news conference after the match at Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta.

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"This team generates scoring opportunities and defends like lions," he added.

In addition to their high-pressing, Canada threatened in attack with Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Stephen Eustaquio each having clear scoring chances in the first half.

"As a negative aspect, I am left with the chances they created," Scaloni said. "We will analyze them in detail later. Winning always reinforces a lot of things. Yesterday I said that Canada was a tough opponent and, just as we thought, it was a good test."

Argentina's next opponent in the continental tournament will be Chile in New Jersey on June 25 while Canada will face Peru in Kansas City the same day.