Lionel Messi in awe as Argentina back in Copa América final

Lionel Messi said he was left in awe after Argentina and some of its remaining “old guard” defeated Canada 2-0 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to qualify for the 2024 Copa América final.

Messi scored his first goal at this year’s Copa and the 14th of his career in the second half to double the lead Julián Álvarez staked Argentina to with his first-half strike.

“What this team has done, what the Argentina national team has done, because after this everyone gives more importance to all the finals that me and the ‘older guys’ have played,” Messi said after the match. “Me, Fide [Angel Di María], Ota [Nicolás Otamendi], and that Argentina can play another final is amazing.

“To be honest it has been a difficult tournament, the level has been as equal as ever, very bad surfaces, high temperatures that make it hard to play, very tough rivals. So the fact we made it and we are here again playing a final is something to enjoy and highlight.”

La Albiceleste returns to the final game of the tournament for the second consecutive time, after featuring in the 2021 edition, and stands on the brink of winning the country’s 16th Copa América title — which would pull them ahead of Uruguay for the most all time.

Manager Lionel Scaloni expressed excitement over reaching this point of the competition, before warning of the difficulties that lie ahead for Argentina.

“It’s something to be proud of and grateful to the players for,” Scaloni said. “Yesterday, a colleague asked me if we normalize this, but the question was good and I wasn’t clear. It’s super difficult to be in a final, especially coming in the way we did with previous success and triumph. It’s double as hard.

“The ones on the inside know how difficult it is to reach this point. It’s a sensation of happiness, but also worry because it costs more.”

Argentina topped Group A by beating Canada, Chile and Peru, before going on to beat Ecuador in a shootout to reach the semifinal. Messi and Co. dispatched Canada in the semifinal by the same scoreline as it did in group play at 2-0 to put the team in the final.

Now, the team prepares to face either Uruguay or Colombia in what could be the final game for Di Maria and Messi.

“You know how I think, we wait and see how he plays,” Scaloni said of Di Maria. “We won’t retire him early before the game, then the tears will start and everyone, his family, will get melancholic. We’ll see later if we convince him or not convince him, but for now we let him play.

“It’s the same case for Messi. We leave them calm from our part, we won’t be the ones to close the door on them. He can be with us until he wants, and even after he retires he can join me if I’m still coach. And if not I’ll take him where I go. He would be a great help.”

Argentina will travel to Miami, Florida — where Messi plays for club side Inter Miami CF — to play the final match at Hard Rock Stadium on July 14.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.