Bengaluru, June 14: Lionel Messi's hopes of matching Cristiano Ronaldo's feat of winning major silverware with his country will be put to the test again when Argentina kick-off their Copa America campaign against Colombia.
The match starts at 3.30 am (Sunday, June 16, IST).
La Albiceleste have been runners-up at four of the last five editions of the tournament and Messi temporarily stood down from international duty after their penalty shoot-out loss to Chile in 2016.
But the Barcelona star – who has seen rival Ronaldo claim two titles with Portugal at the European Champonship and Nations League – is back once again to lead the line at the CONMEBOL event for Lionel Scaloni's side, who are also set to face Paraguay and Qatar in Group B.
First up is a clash against Colombia in Salvador, with Argentina – who also boast the likes of Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala – unbeaten against Saturday's opponents since 2007.
That is not a record Radamel Falcao is unduly concerned by, as Colombia's all-time top scorer prepares for what could be his final Copa America.
"I'm treating it as if that were the case," he said of his potential farewell to the tournament. "It's a good way to try to get the best out of myself.
"We are aware that we haven't won against in a long time, but we have to keep fighting. I think we're closer.
"We must be attentive to the finer details, stay focused and play the way that we have been training.
"In these types of matches the little things can make a big difference."
Colombia coach Carlos Queiroz will be seeking to secure the nation's first title at the competition since they were hosts in 2001.
The former Real Madrid boss has overseen three wins from four matches in charge, including a 3-0 victory over Peru in their final warm-up game.
Argentina were even more convincing winners as they closed out their preparations with a 5-1 thrashing of Nicaragua, Messi scoring two first-half goals before being withdrawn at the break.
The two nations last met in a friendly last September that ended goalless, marking the fifth match in a row in which Colombia had drawn a blank against Argentina.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina – Lionel Messi
He may be the obvious choice, but Messi is the man who has carried the hopes of a nation for an international career that has thus far yielded preciously little joy.
Previous Copa America failings have hit the diminutive forward hard and, at a tournament during which he will turn 32, the pressure is on for Messi to star in a trophy-winning campaign.
Colombia – Duvan Zapata
After enjoying a prolific campaign on loan with Atalanta, scoring 23 Serie A goals, Zapata may have forced himself into starting contention.
He came off the bench to score his first international goal in the win over Peru, but the man he replaced – Falcao – is likely to be preferred this weekend.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Argentina are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with Colombia in all competitions (W4 D4) – their longest unbeaten run against them.
- These two nations have met 13 times in the Copa America, with seven wins for Argentina and two for Colombia.
- Argentina have won the most games (119) and have the highest goal difference (+282) in Copa America history.
- In four of the last five Copa America tournaments Argentina have finished as runners-up, with each of the last two coming in penalty shoot-out defeats in the final (versus Chile in 2015 and 2016).
- Colombia finished third in 2016; they were defeated 2-0 by eventual champions Chile in the semi-finals and went on to beat hosts USA 1-0 in the 3rd place play-off thanks to a Carlos Bacca winner.
- Argentina have progressed from the Copa America group stage in each of their last 12 appearances.
Argentina vs Colombia
at Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova
Sunday, June 16, 3.30 am IST