Lionel Messi will make his 100th appearance for Argentina against Jamaica on Saturday when his team will look to seal progress to the Copa America quarterfinals as group winners. Argentina sit top of Group B following a 2-2 draw with Paraguay and a 1-0 victory over neighbors Uruguay, and are likely to be assured of progress regardless of the result in Viña del Mar. But Gerardo Martino’s side will be aiming for victory in their attempts to finish on top and get, in theory, a simpler path to the semifinals.
They will surely want to win, too, in order to make it an occasion to remember for their captain. Messi has scored an impressive 46 goals in his 99 appearances to date and since the last Copa America four years ago has begun to fully replicate his incredible performances with Barcelona for the country he left for Spain at the age of 13. But, despite winning every possible honor on multiple occasions with Barcelona, he has failed to win a single trophy with Argentina. Having come agonizingly close in the 2014 World Cup final and the 2007 Copa America final, Messi has outlined just how desperate he is to go all the way in Chile.
“I would give everything [to win the Copa America]” he told La Nacion. “This group deserves it for their fighting mentality. We had a great World Cup and we deserve it. I would love it. Winning the Copa America would us some give peace of mind for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Not only for my teammates, for the coach and for me, but for the country, too. The fans also want us to win."
“I'm very happy to be here and hopefully I can celebrate another victory and finally win a title with Argentina. In these 100 games I have had incredible experiences, really great times. They're unforgettable. I've been through situations that have helped me grow as a player, but unfortunately without any titles to show for it. Hopefully, I'll have one to go with these 100 games.”
So far there have been mixed signs for Argentina. Compared to last year’s World Cup, an incredible selection of attacking options, including Messi, looks fitter and sharper -- especially Sergio Aguero. The Manchester City forward has scored against Paraguay and Uruguay, although could be replaced by Gonzalo Higuain against Jamaica having suffered a shoulder injury last time out. Still, the greater concern for Martino will likely be that in both games Argentina have shown signs of defensive fragility. Paraguay improbably clawed back a 2-0 deficit and while Uruguay couldn’t find an equalizer on Tuesday they did miss a glorious chance to do so in the final 15 minutes.
There is unlikely to be too much concern, though, about taking on a Jamaica side that has yet to register a single goal in what is their first ever visit to the Copa America. Admittedly, the Caribbean team have hardly been outclassed so far, losing just 1-0 to both Uruguay and Paraguay. But there may well be some frustration after a goalkeeping calamity by Duwayne Kerr against Paraguay resulted in the game’s only goal and means Jamaica go into their final group match with only the most remote chance of progressing to the quarterfinals. Yet captain Rodolph Austin insists they will be giving everything against Argentina.
“We have nothing to lose, we just have to go out there with the same professionalism that we applied on the pitch against Uruguay and do our best,” he said, reports the Jamaica Observer. “It is a very good team, but they are struggling at the moment with scoring.
“All the games are very tight, so it is one of them where we have to just focus and we cannot just be like because we are already eliminated we don't show up.”
Prediction: Argentina haven’t fully hit their stride yet and could make changes to their side as they look ahead to the start of the knockout stages. But a strong squad could be enough to see off a Jamaica side that has been resolute but ultimately lacking in top-level quality.
Predicted score: Argentina over Jamaica, 2-0