Lionel Messi’s through ball led to Julián Álvarez’s goal in the 49th minute, then he assisted on Lautaro Martínez’s goal in the 88th as Argentina began the defense of its Copa América title with a 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday night.

Argentina is seeking its third straight major title after winning the 2021 Copa América and the 2022 World Cup.

With South America’s championship moved to the United States for the second time, Messi set a Copa América record with his 35th match, one more than Chile’s Sergio Livingstone from 1941-53. Messi extended his own record with his 18th assist.

Julián Álvarez scores in 49′ to give Argentina a 1-0 lead vs. Canada | Copa América 2024

Messi, who turns 37 on Monday, created the first goal when following a throw-in he headed a pass through the defense for Alexis MacAllister. The midfielder side-footed a pass to Álvarez while crashing into an onrushing goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau about 8 yards out. Álvarez had a virtually empty net and kicked the ball in over a sliding defender for his eighth goal in 32 international appearances.

Messi extended his Copa América record when he ran through the center of the midfield and rolled a pass to Martínez, who got his 25th international goal.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi assists Lautaro Martínez’s goal to secure a 2-0 win over Canada | Copa América 2024

Messi’s best scoring chance was in the 65th minute, when Crépeau made a diving stop and Messi’s attempt off the rebound was blocked by the head of defender Derek Cornelius. Messi put a chip wide after he came in alone on Crépeau in the 79th.

He was shaken up by a sliding tackle from defender Moïse Bombito in the 82nd minute, but remained in the game.

Argentina plays Chile on Tuesday at East Rutherford, New Jersey, then closes the first round against Peru on June 29 at Miami Gardens, Florida. Canada faces Peru on Tuesday at Kansas City, Kansas, and finishes the group stage against Chile on June 29 at Orlando, Florida.

Fourteen U.S. stadiums are hosting the tournament, which runs through June 14 and ends at Miami Gardens, Florida. Six nations from North and Central America and the Caribbean were added to the 10 South American teams, just as in the centennial Copa América in 2016.

Slow starts did not prevent the Albiceleste from winning their previous two tournaments. Argentina opened the 2022 World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and began the 2021 Copa América with a 1-1 draw against Chile.

Argentina vs. Canada Highlights | Copa América 2024

Canada made its Copa América debut and played its first competitive match under American coach Jesse Marsch, hired on May 13.

Grass was installed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a Major League Soccer game Saturday on the usual artificial turf.

Argentina started eight players who began the 2022 World Cup final victory over France, inserting central defender Lisandro Martínez, left back Marcos Acuña and Leandro Paredes for Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico and Enzo Fernández.

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez was tested in the 43rd minute, when he used his left hand to bat away a bounced header by Stephen Eustáquio.

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Reporting by The Associated Press.

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