Again, Messi takes center stage for Copa America

World champions Argentina get an expanded Copa America under way on Thursday with Lionel Messi looking to add a second continental title in what is almost certainly his final appearance in the tournament.

The 108-year-old competition is being held in the United States with the host nation among six teams from the CONCACAF region joining the 10 South American nations looking for a place in the July 14 final in Miami.

While FIFA will be looking closely at the organization of the event, two years out from the World Cup which will be co-hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico, the tournament’s rich history and prestige means it is much, much more than a ‘trial event’.

Argentina have won the Copa 15 times but only once, in 2021, during the Messi era and coach Lionel Scaloni has stuck largely with his World Cup-winning squad, with veterans Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi likely taking their final bow in a major tournament.

Whether this is Messi’s goodbye to elite international football remains to be seen – the eight-times Ballon d’Or winner, now playing in Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, will turn 37 four days after Thursday’s opener in Atlanta against Canada and has yet to decide whether he will try to play in a record sixth World Cup.

“It’s great to have records and continue to achieve things but I won’t take part in a World Cup just to say I’ve done six,” Messi told ESPN.

“If I feel good and everything is in place for me to be there, fine, but I won’t go just to go. It’s very difficult to imagine what can happen because it’s still two years away. I don’t need to commit right now to whether or not I’ll be there,” he added.