Copa América: Lionel Messi unlocks Canada, Argentina opens with a shaky win

Canada made Argentina work

For long stretches of its 2024 Copa América opener, Argentina looked shaky. The defending champions — of South America, and of the world — labored at times during a battle with Canada. They played some fluid, dynamic fútbol, but also some very lax soccer. At halftime, they very easily could have been behind.

But four minutes into an action-packed second half, Lionel Messi unlocked Canada — with a pass that was either ingenious or inadvertent.

Did he see Alexis Mac Allister, and feed the midfielder's run? Or was he looking for Julián Álvarez's feet, before Álvarez ran elsewhere? The answer hardly matters. Only the conclusion does. Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau clattered into Mac Allister, who'd latched onto Messi's pass. Crépeau's foul would have yielded a penalty, but Álvarez rendered that unnecessary.

In the waning minutes, Messi undressed Canada again. Lautaro Martinez finished. And Argentina exhaled.

Martinez's 88th-minute goal sealed a 2-0 Argentina victory in Thursday's opener. But it — and the flurry of chances that Argentina created and missed in the second half — also masked an imperfect performance.

In the end, Argentina deserved its victory. Messi and Co. are well on their way to the tournament's knockout rounds after just one night. But they benefitted from Canadian misses and good fortune. They are, on Matchday 1, not yet in top gear.

So they will surely have to improve to defend their title captured three years ago in Brazil. They will need to prove that their core has not aged to the dark side of its peak.

You can relive Thursday's game as it happened below.

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  • FINAL: Argentina 2-0 Canada

    The reigning champs sit atop Group A with 3 points!

  • Martinez puts Argentina up 2-0 after another crisp assist from Messi!

  • Canada's substitutions for the final 10 minutes or so of the match: Richie Laryea on for Cyle Larin, Jacen Russell-Rowe for Liam Millar and Jonathan Osorio for Ismael Kone.

  • Bombito's slide tackle had Messi writhing in pain on the field, but he's back up and back in action after a brief pause in action.

  • Tons of chances, still 1-0 — somehow

    After the latest missed chance, Lionel Messi went down.

    Canadian center back Moïse Bombito flew into a tackle, and caught Messi flush in the ankle.

    Messi is up now, but limping. He'll likely stay in, but that'll hurt. And it was scary.

  • Messi gets another 1-on-1 but once again misses the target

  • Substitutions Nos. 2 & 3 for Argentina with Nicolas Otamendi replacing Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez coming in for Julian Alvarez. Earlier, Canada's Jacob Shaffelburg replaced Tajon Buchanan.

  • Canada howls for a penalty...

    Jacob Shaffelburg dipped past an Argentine defender into the big, and got taken down.

    The referee seemed to bring his whistle halfway to his mouth ... then didn't bring it all the way.

    On replay: It was absolutely a foul, but probably just outside the box, so there's nothing the VAR could do.

  • Scaloni makes the first substitution for Argentina as Giovani Lo Celso replaces Angel Di Maria.

  • Chances at both ends!

    Remember when Pelé wowed at the World Cup even when he sent shots wide? Messi just did something similar. He sat two Canadian players down with one feint on a break, and nearly scooped the ball into a gaping net, but his clever shot was blocked.

    At the other end, Jonathan David just flashed a header a few yards high and wide.

    Still 1-0 to Argentina.

  • Messi magic still loading ...

  • Di Maria a tad bit late here:

  • On Argentina's goal: Messi magic? Or a bit of good fortune?

    To the untrained eye, Argentina's goal was the umpteenth example of Lionel Messi's greatness. His through-ball to Alexis Mac Allister was one that nobody else on the field could see.

    But I'm not sure Messi saw it either.

    He seemed to be looking for Julian Álvarez's feet. Alvarez, though, made a diagonal run, so Messi's pass went into no-man's land ... which Mac Allister happened to be running into.

  • The 24-year-old Álvarez continues to do his part for the Albiceleste

  • Argentina breakthrough!

    Messi to Mac Allister, who gets cleaned out by Canadian keeper Maxime Crépeau.

    It would've been a penalty, but Mac Allister's touch fell right to Julian Álvarez, who finished well.

    1-0 to Argentina.

  • Second half starts now after a longer-than-usual halftime (20+ minutes).

  • Can Canada hold on?

    In Canada's two pre-tournament friendlies, they also held elite opponent scoreless for 45 minutes.

    In the first, they got blown out by the Netherlands after halftime and lost, 4-0.

    In the second, they held on for a 0-0 draw with France.

    This third such game could really go either way. (Or, it could very easily go to Canada.)

  • Halftime. Plenty of action, no goals.

    All in all, a pretty good start for Jesse Marsch and Canada.

    They'll be far happier than Argentina, both with the scoreline and the performance so far.

    But, of course, the Argentines are still the favorites. They've had chances. They'll have more. And, well, they have Lionel Messi.

  • Emiliano Martinez with a heroic save to keep the score 0-0:

  • Alexis Mac Allister denied

  • Canada is not intimidated by the reigning World Champions!

  • The playing surface is... a problem

    The temporary grass field that's been installed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was a topic of conversation pregame, and even more so throughout the first 30 minutes of this game in Argentina.

    It's a bit choppy and uneven, and sometimes seems to slow the ball down. Players don't quite seem as confident in their touch as they'd normally be. That iota of hesitation or discomfort can really make a difference.

  • Another close call for Canada after a stellar setup by Messi, but Marcos Acuna didn't get the help he needed inside the box.

  • Still 0-0 after 28 minutes

    This, so far, is a 50th-percentile performance from both teams.

    If it continues apace, you'd expect Argentina to eventually find a few more chances and a goal. But there's no guarantee that the goal will come.

    Canada also has firepower on the break, but Argentine defenders are so good at neutralizing the break with, among other things, tactical fouls.

  • Canada survives the first 20

    Aside from one Argentine barrage, Canada has been ... fine. Not good, but fine.

    Messi and Di Maria are dangerous. They always will be. But the Canadian setup is solid, and the underdogs have maybe settled a bit now.

  • Huge save for Crépeau!

  • The match is underway in Atlanta! Here we go!

  • Core memory unlocked.

  • Looking ahead a bit, here's the USMNT's schedule for the Group Stage. Our guy Henry Bushnell will be there covering all three of these matches for us.

  • The world champs are intact

    Eight of this Argentina starting 11 also started the World Cup final 18 months ago.

    Ten of today's 11 played in that unforgettable game.

    The only one of today's 11 who didn't is Lisandro Martinez, who is very clearly an upgrade on 36-year-old Nico Otamendi.

    So, yeah ... they're the tournament favorites for a reason.

  • The reigning World Cup champions have hit the field in Atlanta, led by their 8-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.

  • Here's our power rankings of the top national teams competing in the 2024 Copa América. Agree or disagree?

  • Argentina's starting 11 is no joke.

  • La Albiceleste, the nickname of the Argentina national team which translates to the White and Sky Blues, had fans starting the fiesta early in Atlanta ahead of tonight's matchup.

  • Yahoo Sports senior writer Jay Busbee is in the house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to help us with our live coverage.

  • Hello and welcome to our live coverage of Argentina vs. Canada in the opening match of the 2024 Copa América.