Argentina Panama


June 8, 20162:54 PM EDT
Argentina vs. Panama
Copa America Centenario
June 10 | 9:30 pm ET | Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
TV: FOX, UniMás, UDN

No Messi, no problem, Argentina proved in their 2-1 defeat of Chile on June 7. Though the superstar was sidelined still that night with a lumbar injury, he could be in form for this game—and that should trouble Panama, to say the least. Still, Panama boast a serious danger in Blas Perez, whose brace led them to victory over Bolivia on June 6.

How crucial is Messi?

Angel Di Maria more than proved he can step up to the plate and carry the team in Messi’s absence, scoring one goal and assisting the other in Argentina’s win over Chile. He even did so while secretly mourning the very recent passing of his grandmother.

It helped, too, that he played alongside two other great talents on the front, Nicolas Gaitan and Federico Higuain. This is Argentina after all, and the roster is deep.

But still, it would be crazy talk not to think Messi could clearly make a difference in crucial games. Even Argentina’s head coach, Gerardo Martino, reminded everyone of this in a post-Chile-game press conference. “We came with 23 soccer players and all of the them have their responsibilities and all of them should not think they have to replace or play like this absent player,” he said, “because when you’re talking about the best player in the world, it’s impossible to imitate him.”

But wait, will he show up, or what?

It’s still questionable if Martino will decide Messi is fit enough to play with the team before the tournament’s knockout rounds. Messi did accompany the team to a scrimmage the day after the game, against the San Jose Earthquakes’ PDL side Burlingame Dragons FC. (Side note: Burlingame beat Argentina 1-0 in the 40-minute match.)

“He is kicking the ball better and we expect that in four days he will be in condition to play,” Martino said after the June 6 game. “It is worth thinking that he will recover by then.” We’ll see when he reveals his lineup on the night.

More blasts from Blas?

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Perez showed the best of his abilities for Panama in their game against Bolivia, excelling in an often physical game and still managing to finish. That historic performance for his country might fuel him to an even more motivated attack against Argentina. “

“He’s a man who has had triumphant moments,” Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez said to reporters through a translator after the game against Bolivia. “He’s been sent to the heavens and the hells, and he’s never given up.”