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Messi's 109th goal leads defending champion Argentina over Canada 2-0 and into Copa America final

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Lionel Messi scored his 109th international goal and first of the tournament, leading defending champion Argentina over Canada 2-0 on Tuesday night and into the Copa America final.

Julián Álvarez put the Albiceleste ahead in the 22nd minute and Messi redirected Enzo Fernández’s shot in off the face of goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau in the 51st. Messi has 28 goals in his last 25 matches for Argentina and 14 in Copa America play, three shy of the record.

Only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo with 130 has more international goals than Messi, who turned 37 on June 24. Iran’s Al Daei had 108 or 109 from 1993 to 2006, with a lingering dispute over whether a goal against Ecuador in 2000 occurred in a full international match.

With a victory on its independence day, Argentina extended its unbeaten streak to 10 games. The Albiceleste seek a record 16th Copa title when they play Uruguay or Colombia on Sunday at Miami Gardens, Florida.

Trying to string together championships in consecutive Copa Americas around the 2022 World Cup championship, Argentina is trying to match the feat of Spain when La Roja won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships along with the 2010 World Cup.

“It’s insane what this team has done, what the Argentina national team is doing," Messi said. “For those who remain from the old guard, it’s beyond impressive that the national team is in another final."

Argentina fans gathered in Times Square on the eve of the match and filled the streets on Manhattan before heading to MetLife Stadium, site of the 2026 World Cup final. The crowd of 80,102 on a night with an 82-degree temperature and 82% humidity was overwhelmingly pro-Argentina, with only a few sections dominated by red-clad Canadian supporters.

It was among the biggest games for Canadian soccer, which went 0-6 in its only World Cup appearances in 1986 and 2022 and won its only major title at the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina had beaten Canada 2-0 in the tournament opener on June 20.

Canada star Alphonso Davies limped off after his right leg was caught in a clean challenge with Gonzalo Montiel and he was replaced in the 71st minute.

Making his 38th Copa America appearance, Messi had missed Argentina’s group stage finale with a leg injury and was subdued while playing 90 minutes in the quarterfinal win over Ecuador.

He was just wide from the top of the penalty area in the 12th minute after exchanging passes with Ángel Di María, then wide again in the 44th and put a chip over the crossbar in first-half injury time.

MetLife’s temporary grass surface appeared heavy, with water splashing and sand popping up during dribbles.

"It’s has been a very difficult Copa América, very competitive, bad surfaces, excessive heat,” Messi said.

Argentina went ahead after Rodrigo De Paul from the center circle played a long pass to Álvarez, who took a touch at the top of the arc to control the ball from Moïse Bombito. Álvarez took another touch to create space from Bombito and from near the penalty spot slipped the ball between the legs of Crépeau for his ninth goal in 35 international appearances.

Messi scored following a throw-in. He centered the ball to De Paul, who ran to the end line and cut the ball back. Koné’s attempted clearance went to Fernández, who teed up a shot that Messi redirected from just inside the 6-yard box.

“I just put myself in the middle of it," Messi said. "I wasn’t sure if Enzo’s ball was going to get in. It was a reflex.”

Jonathan David was thwarted by Emiliano Martínez from close range in first-half stoppage time, and Martínez made a kick save on Tani Oluwaseyi in the 80th.

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AP Copa America coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/copa-america