Copa America crunch-time for surviving quartet

Lionel Messi in action for Argentina against Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo. File photo

The Copa America is down to the final four with a pair of fascinating semi-finals and favourites Argentina hoping they can win their third straight major title.

The Argentines, world champions and defending Copa title holders, open the semi-final action when they face surprise package Canada on Tuesday in New Jersey.

Then on Wednesday in Charlotte, Uruguay — who knocked out Brazil after a shoot-out on Saturday — will play a Colombia team which, unbeaten in 27 games, beat Panama 5-0 in their quarter-final.

Argentina and Uruguay, currently tied on 15 Copa America titles, are both hoping they can break that deadlock to become the most successful nation in the tournament’s history.

Colombia have a solitary title from 2001 while Canada are playing in the tournament for the first time.

Argentina needed penalty shoot-out heroics from their goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to get past Ecuador in the last eight and while Lionel Scaloni’s team have yet to really hit top gear they start as clear favourites against Canada.

American coach Jesse Marsch has made an instant impact with Canada, taking over in mid-May and quickly implementing his high-energy, pressing style to great effect.

Marsch, who was reported to be close to taking over as USA coach before the decision last year to re-hire Gregg Berhalter, has had the last laugh as his team have produced a memorable run to the last four while the Americans failed to get out of their group.

Canada got past a Venezuela team that had won all three of their group stage games, winning on penalties at the end of a pulsating encounter on Friday.

However, they know that Lionel Messi and Argentina represent a very different proposition.

The teams met in the opening group game of the tournament with Argentina winning 2-0, but there is no shortage of confidence in Marsch’s team.

“It’s going to take everything,” said Bayern Munich wing-back Alphonso Davies.

“Going into this game, we know what’s on the line. We win and go forward, we lose and go home. They’re going to come out with everything. We’re hungrier than ever, we expect a battle — as they should,” he said.

Three of the four quarter-finals were decided on penalties, but Marsch insists his team will play their usual attacking style.

“The game against Argentina will have to be the best we’ve ever played … We’re not going to sit back and just try to defend. We will be aggressive. We’re going to try to play the way we want to play and see if we can keep it up,” he promised.

Argentina’s line-up remains largely the one which triumphed in the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 although Messi, troubled by a hamstring strain, has yet to perform anywhere near the level he showed in that tournament.

But the midfield is packed with quality options and striker Lautaro Martinez has picked up four goals while the defence, marshalled by Lisandro Martinez, has looked solid.

Colombia continue to impress under Nestor Lorenzo with the late career “second wind” for playmaker James Rodriguez providing them with a creative spark.

Rodriguez has never quite lived up to expectations at club level but has recaptured the electric form he showed at the World Cup in Brazil 10 years ago.

“I’m having a good time. The boys are also having a very good Cup. Without their help I couldn’t play well. Everything is coming together,” he said after providing two assists and scoring a penalty in the thrashing of Panama.

Bruising encounter

Uruguay are in buoyant mood after eliminating Brazil in a bruising encounter in Las Vegas, but they will be without the suspended Nahitan Nandez and have injuries to defender Ronaldo Araujo and wing-back Matias Vina.

Veteran Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa has brought his trademark direct, hard-running style to Uruguay and that promises a game which will be high-tempo, with Colombia dangerous on the break thanks to the pace of winger Luis Diaz.

“The match against Colombia will be just as demanding (as playing Brazil) because they are a team that has been developing a lot match by match,” Bielsa said.

“Like Brazil, they have important strikers in every position, but we are confident we can play on an equal footing with any opponent,” he added.

The Copa America final will be held in Miami on July 14.

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