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Messi's 109th goal leads defending champion Argentina over Canada 2-0 and into Copa America final

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — (AP) — Lionel Messi and Argentina moved within one win of joining Spain as the only nations to win three straight major titles.

“It’s insane what this team has done, what the Argentina national team is doing,” Messi said Tuesday night after his 109th international goal sealed a 2-0 victory over Canada that earned a berth in this weekend's Copa America final. “For those who remain from the old guard, it’s beyond impressive that the national team is in another final.”

Julián Álvarez put the Albiceleste ahead in the 22nd minute, controlling a long pass from Rodrigo De Paul, taking two touches to get away from Moïse Bombito and slipping the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau for his ninth international goal.

Messi redirected Enzo Fernández's shot following a poor Ismaël Koné clearance in off the face of Crépeau from 4 yards in the 51st for his first goal of the tournament. Messi has 28 goals in his last 25 matches for Argentina and 14 in Copa America play, three shy of the record. He has scored against 38 different nations.

“I wasn’t sure if Enzo’s ball was going to get in,” Messi said. “It was a reflex.”

Only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo with 130 has more international goals than Messi, who turned 37 on June 24. Iran’s Ali Daei had 108 or 109 from 1993 to 2006, with a lingering dispute over whether a goal against Ecuador in 2000 occurred in a full international match.

With a victory on its independence day, Argentina extended its unbeaten streak to 10 games. The Albiceleste seek a record 16th Copa title when they play Uruguay or Colombia on Sunday at Miami Gardens, Florida.

“We have to enjoy every moment of what we’re are living," Messi said. "I'm conscious that these are the last battles.”

Trying to string together Copa America titles around the 2022 World Cup championship, Argentina hopes to match Spain's feat of winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships along with the 2010 World Cup.

“These are statistics. I'm not really interested about it,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said through a translator. “The most important thing is to win.”

Making his 38th Copa America appearance, Messi had missed Argentina's group stage finale with a leg injury and was subdued while playing 90 minutes in the quarterfinal win over Ecuador. He was much more agile and shot just wide in the 12th and 44th minutes.

Messi had 45 touches and a 79% pass success rate.

“They make us pay on small details,” Crépeau said.

MetLife’s temporary grass surface appeared heavy, with water splashing and sand popping up during dribbles.

“It’s has been a very difficult Copa América,” Messi said, “very competitive, bad surfaces, excessive heat.”

Argentina fans gathered in Times Square on the eve of the match and filled the streets on Manhattan before heading to MetLife Stadium. The crowd of 80,102 on a night with an 82-degree temperature and 82% humidity was overwhelmingly pro-Argentina, with only a few sections dominated by red-clad Canadian supporters.

It was among the biggest games for Canadian soccer, which went 0-6 in its only World Cup appearances in 1986 and 2022 and won its only major title at the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina had beaten Canada 2-0 in the tournament opener on June 20.

“The tournament caught up with us a little bit,” Canada coach Jesse Marsch said. “There’s been heat, there’s been travel, there’s been a lot of challenges. ... We’re still at the beginnings of our process, right? Argentina’s maybe had eight years together, seven years together with this team, and so we need to develop more players that can contribute so that we can also rotate in tournament play, because eventually the physicality and the fatigue can catch up with you.”

Canada star Alphonso Davies limped off in the 71st minute after his right leg was caught in a clean challenge with Gonzalo Montiel.

"He’s getting an X-ray, so we’re hopeful he’s OK, but we’re not sure," Marsch said.

Canada had two shots on target: Jonathan David was thwarted by Emiliano Martínez from close range in first-half stoppage time, and Martínez made a kick save on Tani Oluwaseyi in the 89th.

“We started getting sloppy. We started getting away from the game plan,” said defender Derek Cornelius, who exchanged jerseys with Messi.

While Messi referred to “last battles,” Scaloni and fans hold out hope Argentina and Messi will return to MetLife for the 2026 World Cup final.

“We will never be the ones to close the door,” Scaloni said. “He can be with our team for as long as he wants to be.”

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AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america

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