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Argentina, Colombia open Copa America looking to end drought

June 14, 2019
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Argentina's Lionel Messi, second left, walks past coach Lionel Scaloni, left, during a training session of the national soccer team at Barradao stadium, in preparation for the Copa America soccer tournament in Salvador, Brazil, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. On Saturday, Argentina will face Colombia for the first Group B game of the South American tournament. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Will it be more of the same or the starting point of a prosperous cycle?

The question applies to both Argentina and Colombia ahead of their Copa America debut in Brazil on Saturday at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.

Both teams enter the South American championship going through a revamping process, with new coaches and younger players coming in to replace former stars.

Saturday will mark the first competitive match for Argentina since its elimination in the round of 16 of the World Cup in Russia last year. The team’s disappointing performance led to the departure of coach Jorge Sampaoli and the absence of veterans Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Gonzalo Higuain from this year’s squad.

Now on the bench is Lionel Scaloni, the former player who took over despite no previous head-coaching experience. Scaloni is expected to field a starting 11 with six players from the World Cup in Russia: captain Lionel Messi, goalkeeper Franco Armani, defenders Nicolas Otamendi and Nicolas Di Maria and strikers Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero.

Among the newcomers are Renzo Saravia, Leandro Paredes and Guido Rodriguez, who are younger than 26, which is the time since Argentina last won a title with the senior team at the 1993 Copa America.

“We are going to give everything in every game. We will be motivated from the start,” defender German Pezzella said. “We want to win something with this jersey.”

Messi, Aguero and Di Maria are the only survivors from the group that lost the finals of the World Cup in 2014 and the Copa America in 2015 and 2016. The trio will lead Argentina’s attack in the Copa America.

On Saturday, Argentina will try to extend a 12-year unbeaten run against Colombia.

“We haven’t beaten Argentina for a long time, but we have to keep fighting. I think we are much closer,” Colombia captain Radamel Falcao said. “We will continue fighting and giving everything to achieve this goal. This team has decided to live according to this mentality of believing and fighting.”

Colombia arrives with Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz having replaced Argentine Jose Pekerman, who revamped the team and led it to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But Pekerman wasn’t able to win a title during his successful stint, and Colombia remains without a trophy since the 2001 Copa America.

“Colombia has margin to grow, there is a base and a new generation of footballers that can make this group grow even more,” the 33-year-old Falcao said.

Both Colombia and Argentina will still depend on the likes of Messi and James Rodriguez.

Messi had a disappointing end to his season after being eliminated with Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals and losing the Copa del Rey final. He arrived in Brazil saying his focus was on winning the title and guiding younger players.

Rodriguez returns to the country where he became the World Cup’s top scorer five years ago, but he arrives with his club future uncertain after series of injuries.

Argentina lost goalkeeper Esteban Andrada because of a knee injury on the eve of Saturday’s Group B match.

Argentina will next play against Paraguay in Belo Horizonte, while Colombia will face Qatar in Sao Paulo.

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AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

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