Canada v Argentina - CONMEBOL Copa America USA 2024

The devoted fans, sporting his No. 10 jersey – young and old, a truly global group, some hailing from Argentina, others embracing Messi’s home country as their own, at least from a footballing perspective – got what they came for at MetLife Stadium, outside New York City, on Tuesday night.

In the 51st minute of Argentina’s convincing 2-0 victory over Canada in a Copa América semifinal, Messi used his magical left foot to redirect a shot attempted by teammate Enzo Fernandez, giving Argentina its second goal of the night and Messi the 109th of his international career, surpassing Iran’s on the all-time list. Only Portugal’s , who has 130, is ahead of him.

The messianic chants from the crowd of over 80,000 at a sweltering MetLife – “Messi! Messi! Messi!” – soon followed.

Canada was the surprising underdog opponent, hoping to pull off a monumental upset after an already unexpected run in the tournament. The Canadian border sits less than 300 miles north of MetLife; Buenos Aires sits some 5,300 miles to the south. An American, , coaches the Canadian team.

No matter. Fans of Argentina outnumbered those wearing Canadian red by a significant margin. It was a home game, far from home, for the defending .

Forgive anyone whose mind began to wander. Just over two years from now, MetLife Stadium will host the . Messi teased his legions by scoring a goal here: Could he return to clinch a second straight World Cup and solidify his already incredible legacy in some sort of unbreakable limestone? Through his Major League Soccer signing and stellar play with , he’s already raised the profile of soccer in the United States beyond prior imagination.

He’ll be 39 at the next World Cup, but still looks quite agile. Why wouldn’t he just finish the job?

But first, there’s the non-trivial matter of winning another international championship. Argentina won the last Copa América, in 2021 in Brazil, its first title in that tournament in 28 years. On Sunday, in Miami, Argentina will face the winner of Wednesday’s second semifinal, between Uruguay and Colombia, to try to repeat as Copa champions.

Messi missed a few scoring chances in the first half, but Argentina still took the lead. Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul was given too much space to operate in front of midfield: he chipped a beautiful ball to Julián Álvarez, who finished to give Argentina a 1-0 advantage they would take into halftime. Canada could have made things interesting near the end, but Tani Oluwaseyi sent a header wide in the 89th minute.

Canada’s disappointing loss didn’t stop Marsch, the American whom Canada hired in mid-May as national team coach, from going directly to his players and hugging them, one by one, after the final whistle. He’s known for emphasizing interpersonal joy among his teams and has brought that philosophy to the north. The U.S. at this home Copa América, sparking another round of speculation about the fitness of coach Gregg Berhalter for his job. U.S. Soccer passed over Marsch for its national team opening last year.

“I took this job seven weeks ago,” Marsch said in his post-game press conference. “I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be right here, right now. So I’m really happy with the team and really happy with our performance.”

“Everyone thought it was going to be a path of roses,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said in Spanish after the match. “That it was going to be very easy. Today Canada showed it is a difficult opponent.”

Scaloni dismissed any concerns about the New Jersey heat on Tuesday draining his players for the final. “No excuse,” he told reporters. “We have time to rest, we have time to prepare.”

For one more time—at least—the world will get to witness Messi chase another international title on Sunday. And while Messi has expressed some uncertainty about sticking around for the 2026 World Cup, telling reporters after the match that he was enjoying his “last battles,” Scaloni stressed that the No. 10 has a lifetime membership with Argentina, no matter what.

“We will never close the door on Messi,” said Scaloni. “He can be with us whenever he wants, even after he retires. If I go somewhere else, I’ll take him with me if he wants.”