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Copa America: Lionel Messi a concern for Argentina

Lionel Messi trains with the Argentina national team

Lionel Messi trains with the Argentina national team at the San Jose State University before their upcoming Copa America 2016 match against Chile in San Jose on June 5, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mark Ralston

Argentina begins Copa America against the team that defeated it in the tournament final last year, facing a 23-year title drought and institutional chaos back home.

Yet its most pressing concern is the physical and mental condition of Argentine captain Lionel Messi.

The Barcelona star testified on Thursday in his tax fraud trial in Spain and joined the national team the next day before its debut on Monday in Santa Clara, California, against Chile, the same opponent that defeated Argentina 4-1 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 extra time draw in the 2015 Copa America final.

Messi, 28, also carries injury concerns after leaving a friendly in the second half of a 1-0 victory against Honduras on May 27 with a back and rib injury. After the match, Argentine manager Gerardo Martino said he “would not dare to venture a diagnosis.”

“I’ll listen to the doctor, then I’ll talk to Leo to know if he still feels pain,” Martino said Sunday at a news conference. “And then I’ll have my say from the tactical side, although I’ll listen to the player’s opinion.”

Since his arrival on Friday, Messi has trained lightly and separately from the group because of the injury. Martino indicated he wouldn’t necessarily change his approach if Messi can’t play.

“Setting aside the difference between Messi and every other player, our intent is not to change our style of play,” he said.

He also characterized facing Chile as “a new opportunity,” not a rematch.

Messi, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, has not won any major senior trophy since joining the national team in 2005.

Argentina has won Copa America 14 times since 1921, but has not won an international tournament of any kind since 1993. Since defeating Mexico in 1993, Argentina has been in the Copa final three times and has been the runner-up a tournament-record 13 times.

Argentina’s recent international struggles have been its loss at the 2015 Copa final and its 1-0 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.

Back home in Argentina, the Argentine justice ministry suspended the national federation presidential election set for June 30, citing “administrative irregularities,” and ordered an investigation into the finances of the organization known as the Argentine Football Association (AFA).

AFA leaders threatened to pull the team from Copa America in response to government intervention, usually frowned upon by FIFA, but outgoing federation head Luis Segura later assured the team would play as planned.

New York Sports