Being the top-ranked team in the world means that Argentina are loaded with talent. Even without the world’s best player, they would be the favorites to win it all at Copa America Centenario. But Argentina have struggled in major tournaments, and having Lionel Messi in the lineup puts the team much closer to their goals.
Messi is dealing with a back injury at Copa America, one he suffered in a pre-tournament friendly against Honduras. He trained separate from the club to start the tournament, and did not start in Oscar Tabarez’s lineup in any of team’s group stage matches.
Messi was used as a substitute, and he was efficient with his time. Against Panama, Messi came on in the 61st minute. By the 87th minute, he had scored three goals and Panama were down to 10 men. Messi totally changed the game, and if he’s healthy, can be the difference maker in this tournament.
For all their talent, Argentina have come up short in huge finals the past two years. They fell to Germany at the 2014 World Cup final, and at Copa America 2015 were beaten by hosts Chile in penalties.
Messi is likely to debut in the lineup against Venezuela, but nothing is confirmed until Tabarez releases his starters. Check back here one hour before kickoff (6 p.m. Eastern) to see if Messi is in the starting XI.