'Barcelona-style' Messi driving Argentina at Copa America

AP , Monday 5 Jul 2021

TOPSHOT - Argentina's Lionel Messi gestures during the Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament quarter-final match between Argentina and Ecuador, at the Olympic Stadium in Goiania, Brazil, on July 3, 2021. (AFP)

Argentina is enjoying the ``Barcelona version'' of Lionel Messi at the Copa America ahead of his 150th appearance for the national team.

The 34-year-old Messi is still seeking his first major success with Argentina, not counting Olympic gold in 2008.

But with four goals and four assists in the tournament so far, Messi has led Argentina to the semifinals where it plays Colombia on Tuesday at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia.

On Saturday he scored one goal and provided two assists in Argentina's 3-0 win against Ecuador in the quarterfinals. It was Messi's first game since his contract with Barcelona expired.

Messi has played a record 149 matches for Argentina. His inspired performances in the last five are being compared to his best days with Barcelona, including his vision on the field, the quality of his passes and two goals from free kicks.

``We have to take it easy, think about Colombia now, they are a tough team with players who are great, experienced, very quick up front, good defenders and fast counterattackers,'' Messi said. ``We hope to go step-by-step ... and be at this final we crave for.''

Nine Argentina coaches have tried _ some more than others _ to replicate with Argentina the same Barcelona model that allowed Messi to shine and become the Catalan club's all-time leading scorer.

``This is the best player ever we are talking about,'' said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni. ``The best that can happen to us soccer lovers is that he plays until ... until the age he can do it, and we enjoy it. Nothing else. Even adversaries enjoy it when he plays.''

His teammates have played their part in Messi's resurgence for Argentina, which last won the Copa America in 1993. Messi has a good understanding with Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, all younger and dynamic midfielders. Striker Lautaro Martinez constantly pressures defenders and opens gaps for Messi to make the difference in the final third of the field.

Messi seems driven to be at the July 10 final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the same stadium where Argentina _ and Messi as captain _ lost in the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.

In the other semifinal game, defending champion Brazil plays Peru on Monday.

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