SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Lionel Messi wants Argentina to get over its worst defeat in a Copa America opener. And quickly.
Messi called on his teammates to immediately put the 2-0 loss to Colombia on Saturday in Salvador out of their minds.
“It’s not the best way to start, but if we keep lamenting and don’t move on, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we won’t be prepared to face Paraguay in the next match,” said the 31-year-old Messi, Argentina’s oldest player in the Copa America squad.
Argentina takes on Paraguay in its second Group B match on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte.
“This group is ready for this challenge and will try to succeed,” Messi said. “This group is strong and united. We can make it.”
Argentina hadn’t lost a Copa America opener since a 2-1 defeat to Bolivia in 1979. The team had never lost any of its opening matches in the South American tournament by two goals. Saturday’s defeat also ended Argentina’s 12-year unbeaten streak against Colombia, and marked its first Copa America defeat in regulation since 2007. It lost the 2015 and 2016 finals to Chile in a penalty shootout.
The team coached by Lionel Scaloni needs a win against Paraguay if it’s going to advance to the next stage and keep alive its hopes of ending a title drought of 26 years. Paraguay takes on Qatar on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
Messi had a lackluster performance on Saturday and was unable to spark Argentina to victory. Messi and the rest of the team played better in the second half, but it was Colombia that pulled off the victory with goals by Roger Martinez and Duvan Zapata.
“We allowed them to take the initiative in the first half, we were too far from their area,” Messi said. “We pressed more and kept the ball in the second half, but then they scored.”
At the World Cup in Russia a year ago, Messi looked dejected after missing a penalty kick in the team’s opening 1-1 draw against minnow Iceland.
This time around, with the responsibility of leading a group of young players in the Copa America, he showed optimism despite the setback.
“You have to take the positives, raise your head and move on,” he said. “This is just the beginning, there’s a long way to go.”
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