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SPORTS | 07-06-2024 16:58

Countdown to Argentina's Copa América defence begins

After four games no fewer than four teams sit at the top of the Liga Profesional de Fútbol, but in Argentina, all eyes are about to switch to Lionel Messi and the Albiceleste.

It has been another eventful week in the world of Argentine football. After four games no fewer than four teams sit at the top of the Liga Profesional de Fútbol, led by Racing Club by virtue of their superior goalscoring capacity (which was not on display last weekend as they squeezed past Deportivo Riestra at the last).

Elsewhere, Boca Juniors seem to be teetering on the brink of yet another 'crisis.' Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Platense sent the alarm bells ringing at La Bombonera, leading to a training ground meeting 48 hours later where club president Juan Román Riquelme expressed his displeasure with recent performances. Xeneize spirits were likely not aided by the subsequent draw for the Copa Sudamericana, which guarantees them a trip to the lung-sapping altitude of Quito in the play-off to face either Liga de Quito or Independiente del Valle.

But while there is still one game left to play in the Liga Profesional prior to the winter break, soon all attention will turn back to Lionel Messi and his band of merry men. The Argentina national team are already gearing up for the Copa America, and their first opportunity to defend that venerable old title since 1995.

On Sunday Lionel Scaloni's men take to the field for the first time since March for a challenging pre-Copa warm-up, against Ecuador at Chicago's Soldier Field. Five days later Argentina face the rather less daunting prospect of Guatemala, their final game prior to kicking off the Copa itself against Canada on June 20. The good news for Scaloni is that in spite of the punishing European season that has just come to an end, he enjoys almost a full bill of health, with no regular starters unavailable and with the added boost of Lisandro Martínez's return to fitness after a year plagued by injury.

That includes the Argentina captain. After struggling with a series of niggling injuries at the start of 2024 Messi is now in splendid condition, thriving in the much more sedate backdrop of Major League Soccer alongside Luis Suárez and Jordi Alba, two of his best friends in football and team-mates at Inter Miami. In just 12 MLS games the veteran has scored 12 goals and assisted another nine to send Inter top of the Eastern Conference, having finished a lowly 14th last year. What is more, the little Rosarino wizard has wowed Inter staff with his dedication as well as his other-wordly talents.

“Messi is first in, last out, a true professional,” the club’s strength and conditioning guru Ben Young beamed to English daily The Mirror. “He does his own individual activation and strength sessions, he will even be in training the next day after being away in an international camp in Argentina. He’s in his rhythm, his routine and that is why he’s at the top and has stayed there. He ticks all the boxes, he pushes himself but also does all his recovery work.”

Keeping Messi in peak physical and, perhaps most importantly, mental shape has always been crucial for Argentina's hopes, and arguably Scaloni's greatest achievement as coach as he has got more out of the ace than any of his predecessors. Now, though, we will see just how hungry he and the rest of Argentina's World Cup winners remain for more glory, as the countdown to their Copa defence finally begins.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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