SAN JOSE, Calif. – Lionel Messi has arrived, but his presence for Group D’s marquee match between Argentina and Chile in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, June 6 is still unknown (10 pm ET, FS1, UniMás, UDN).
The Argentina national team captain arrived very early on Friday morning to San Jose, and followed up with his first training with the squad on US soil. Messi had been in Barcelona since the beginning of the week, where he appeared in court for his tax fraud trial, which also involves his father.
Argentina will debut in the tournament against Chile on Monday at Levi’s Stadium in a rematch of last year’s Copa Amarica final won by the latter in penalty shootouts. But Messi, the five time-awarded best player in the world, suffered an injury in the lumbar region during a 1-0 pre-Copa friendly between Argentina and Honduras last week. And even though he's made it to the US, his participation in Monday’s game will still come down to a last-minute decision.
“We’re hoping [Messi] is available for the game,” said Argentina’s head coach, Gerardo Martino, in an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio on Saturday. “His presence will be decided last minute, because the lumbar region is very delicate.”
Messi trained separately from the rest of the group on Friday and Saturday, and was only allowed to jog and run at reduced distance alongside midfielder Lucas Biglia, who’s also recovering from an injury. The likelihood of not having Messi ready for their opening game is something the Argentine players are aware of, and something for which they seem to be prepared.
“When there’s adversity the team needs to step up, and instead of worrying we need to own the adversity. If he doesn’t play, we need to be able to perform the best way possible,” said Augusto Fernandez at a press availability on Friday. He himself is likely to replace Biglia in the starting lineup on Monday.
“He’s the best player in the world and we all want him there," Fernandez said, continuing to speak of Messi. "The decision will be the best for him and his health, because we need him well.”
Martino, on the other hand, tried to cool off any speculation in the press.
“He’s very eager to have a very good Copa and to win it,” continued the Argentine manager to El Mercurio. “From the way I saw him, I shouldn’t be worried.”
Messi is just six goals shy from tying Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer. He's hoping to end his national team’s 23-year trophy drought, after falling short in the 2014 World Cup final and 2015 Copa America final. Whether he can start that mission on Monday remains to be seen.