Football Watch: Messi's Argentina heading for another messy outcome at Copa America

Argentina's Lionel Messi in action against Colombia in their Copa America 2019 clash. (PHOTO: Reuters/Luisa Gonzalez)

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SINGAPORE — They may not have the global popularity of the Fifa World Cup, but ongoing regional football tournaments such as the Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the Concacaf Gold Cup – as well as the Fifa Women’s World Cup – are still of high importance to the international teams taking part.

Not only do they offer the teams a gauge on how much work they have to do before the next World Cup comes along, but they also serve as a great scouting exercise on opponents, who will probably be rivals again come the World Cup qualifiers.

So, even though the footballers must be tired from a long domestic season, they are still eager to represent their countries to challenge for honours. The various regional tournaments are under way, so which teams will set the standards for the rest to follow?

Copa America: Argentina v Paraguay

Oh, shall we cry again for Argentina? The best recent example for a talent-loaded national team that underachieved and underperformed repeatedly, they have started the Copa America disappointingly on the wrong foot again.

A 0-2 loss to Colombia meant that Lionel Messi and Co need to be Paraguay on Thursday (20 June) in order to maintain control of advancing out of their opening group.

On paper, it seems ludicrous that a squad that boast the likes of Messi, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala could struggle to win matches. Yet, the team have been plagued by poor management and player selections for many years now. It is a sad situation for Messi, the supreme player of this generation, to attempt in vain to lift his team to success.

Still, they should be able to score against a Paraguay side which have seen better days. Newcastle striker Miguel Almiron is the key striker for an inexperienced side which drew 2-2 against Qatar in their opening match.

Can Argentina rise up to the challenge and get their Copa America title hopes back on track?

African Cup of Nations: Egypt v Zimbabwe

The African Cup of Nations will begin in Egypt on Friday, and it will feature 24 teams from the continent. Host Egypt, which came in second in the last edition in 2017, will open the tournament with a relatively straightforward tie against Zimbabwe.

Undoubtedly the star of the Egyptian side is Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who has been a constant source of goals for the Reds throughout his two years with the reigning Champions League winners.

Egypt's star player Mohamed Salah acknowledging the fans during a friendly against Guinea. (PHOTO: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

His speed, close control and knack for spectacular goals mean that Egypt are well-placed to put away memories of their winless 2018 World Cup Finals appearance.

As for Zimbabwe, they have done well in the qualifiers, but one will be hard-pressed to find a well-known footballer among their ranks. In fact, a scan at their team sheet throws up some interesting names: there is a defender called Divine, a midfielder named Talent, and a striker called Knowledge!

Can Divine, Talent and Knowledge overcome the speed and skills of Salah? Don’t miss the opener of this expanded African Cup of Nations.

Women’s World Cup: Japan v England

The final group matches at the Women’s World Cup in France will be crucial in determining the paths in which the teams will take in the knockout stages.

One of the key clashes among the remaining group games is in Group D, where 2015 runners-up Japan need to beat group leaders England to avoid coming in second and facing either Netherlands or Canada, both of which will be tough opponents in the round-of-16.

The Japanese have struggled out of the gates, with a goalless draw against Argentina and a 2-1 win over Scotland barely keeping their Cup hopes alive. In contrast, England are sturdy and steady, with hard-fought wins over Scotland and Argentina putting them in prime position to advance to an easier last-16 tie against a third-placed group team.

Fran Kirby in action during the Women's World Cup clash between England and Argentina at Stade Oceane. (PHOTO: Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images)

Can Fran Kirkby and Toni Duggan continue England’s winning ways against Japan’s well-drilled defence led by captain Saki Kumagai?

Concacaf Gold Cup: USA v Trinidad and Tobago

Football may be called soccer in the United States, but they do have a decent national side who will be favourites to retain the Concacaf Gold Cup on home soil.

They have an exciting talent in 20-year-old Christian Pulisic, who has secured a transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea next season. All eyes will be on him whether he can lift the Americans to their seventh Gold Cup.

Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago are a far cry from the side which qualified for the World Cup for the only time in their history in 2002. With only attacking midfielder Kevin Molino of top international quality, they will even be hard-pressed to advance from the opening group, which also features Guyana and 2018 World Cup qualifier Panama.

So could Pulisic showcase his considerable skills against the Trinidadians?

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