It's time for Copa America | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 03, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:42 AM, June 03, 2016

It's time for Copa America

Another chance for Messi; Kaka pulls out

The Centenary Copa America gets underway on Friday in the United States with the host taking on Colombia in the opening match.

Argentina are hot favourites with the bookmakers after sending goalscoring trident Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain to the event.

There are absolutely no doubts about Messi's standing in the modern game, at club level at least.

The record-breaking five-time Ballon d'Or winner has collected 28 trophies during his time with Barcelona.

But there have always been criticisms, among Argentina supporters anyway, that the Rosario-born 28-year-old has not delivered on the international stage compared to two of the game's greatest ever players, Pele and Diego Maradona.

Separating Messi from Pele and Maradona is the fact that the latter two were victorious with their countries.

Compare that to Messi, who is a two-time Copa America runner-up and a 2014 World Cup finalist as pressure builds on the 107-cap veteran to end Argentina's 23-year wait for an international trophy of any sort with a 15th continental crown.

Wearing the captain's armband, Messi, though, might not get a better chance to stake his claim for immortality.

Brazil will be without captain and the country's fifth highest goalscorer Neymar after opted to compete at the Olympic Games on home soil in August instead.

Brazil's troubled build-up to Copa America hit another snag Thursday when midfielder Luiz Gustavo became the sixth player to withdraw from the squad, citing "personal problems."It comes a day after veteran striker Kaka pulled out with a hamstring injury before Brazil open their campaign against Ecuador in California on Saturday. Wallace of the Brazilian side Gremio has replaced Luiz Gustavo.

Kaka, the 34-year-old Orlando City attacking midfielder, saw his dream dashed after suffering an injury at Brazil's Los Angeles training base.

The former FIFA World Player of the Year will be replaced by Sao Paulo's Paulo Henrique Ganso.

Defending champions Chile - who upstaged Argentina in last year's final - have struggled to reach their lofty heights since lifting the Copa trophy 12 months ago, with a disappointing friendly defeat to Jamaica.

Add to that the fact another one of Messi's clubmen, Suarez, is facing a race against time to be fit for the start of Uruguay's Copa campaign. The Barca forward was in tears as he hobbled from the field after suffering a hamstring injury in the team's Copa del Rey victory over Sevilla.

So after three near misses, the centenary tournament might just see Messi crowned the official king of football.

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