Argentina v Colombia: Messi begins latest quest for international silverware

Argentina has finished as runner-up at four of the last five editions of the Copa America and begins the 2019 tournament against Colombia.

Lionel Messi chases his first major silverware with the national team.   -  Getty Images

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 kicks off its Copa America campaign against Colombia.

La Albiceleste has been runner-up at four of the last five editions of the tournament and Messi temporarily stood down from international duty after the penalty shootout 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, which is also set to face Paraguay and Qatar in Group B.

First up is a clash against Colombia in Salvador, with Argentina – which also boasts the likes of Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala – unbeaten against Saturday's opponent 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.

Also read: Messi keen to end Albiceleste's title drought

"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 [Argentina] 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 playing host in 2001.

The former Real Madrid boss has overseen three wins from four matches in charge, including a 3-0 victory over Peru in the final warm-up game.

Argentina was even more a convincing winner as it closed out its preparations with a 5-1 thrashing of Nicaragua, Messi scoring two first-half goals before being withdrawn at the break.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 is unbeaten in its last eight meetings with Colombia in all competitions (W4 D4) – its longest unbeaten run against its south American rival.
- These two nations have met 13 times in the Copa America, with seven wins for Argentina and two for Colombia.
- Argentina has won the most games (119) and has the highest goal difference (+282) in Copa America history.
- In four of the last five Copa America tournaments Argentina has finished as runner-up, with each of the last two coming in penalty shootout defeats in the final (versus Chile in 2015 and 2016).
- Colombia finished third in 2016; it was beaten 2-0 by eventual champion Chile in the semifinals and went on to beat host USA 1-0 in the 3rd place play-off thanks to a Carlos Bacca winner.
- Argentina has progressed from the Copa America group stage in each of its last 12 appearances.

  Dugout videos