Copa América: Canada ‘prepared’ for clash with best-ever Messi

ATLANTA — Jesse Marsch said his Canada team is “prepared” for the challenge of Lionel Messi and Argentina in the inaugural match of the 2024 Copa América on Thursday but fully recognizes the challenge posed by the man he calls the “best to play the game.”

Marsch, who took over as head coach last month, will lead Canada in a competitive game for the first time against the defending Copa América champion at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“The challenge with Messi is not just his quality, but his ability to move around in the game. He doesn’t show up in the same places all the time, he’s very clever at coming underneath at times and moving off the backline,” Marsch said in a news conference Wednesday.

“Obviously any time he’s on the ball the way he can create combinations — and really provide confidence, pause and quality for the team — is very unique. That’s what makes him the best player to ever play the game.

“So, there are clear things we need to address with him, but the key is to be aware of where he is and he’s not in an open space. We need to close the space, and make it difficult for him.”

Marsch previously faced Messi while leading RB Leipzig, falling 3-2 against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2021 UEFA Champions League with two goals from the Argentine striker.

“I’ve coached against him a few times and had some successes, but he finds a way to make a difference. We’re prepared, but we know it is difficult.”

Canada captain Alphonso Davies equally understands the problems that Argentina can cause, urging cautious optimism ahead of the match.

“Argentina is the best team in the world, and us playing against them will be a battle,” he said. “We’re playing against a team with the highest quality. We prepared well, our mindset is strong. We’re going out there to play against the World Cup champions and that’s motivation for us to win this game.”

Canada kick off the tournament against Argentina on Thursday, before facing Peru and Chile in the group stage, with Marsch hopeful the team can put on a better performance than during the 2022 World Cup when the team exited at the group stage without scoring a point.