It's time for Argentina to win: Messi
LIONEL Messi and Argentina will be targeting the country's 23-year title drought when the Copa America Centenario kicks off tomorrow, after a troubled build-up marred by corruption allegations which threatened to derail the event.
One hundred years after Uruguay clinched the inaugural four-team South American championship in Argentina, 16 teams from across the Americas are gathered in the United States for a special one-off edition of the tournament.
The three-week festival of football gets under way at the Levi's Stadium in California tomorrow, when the United States face Colombia at the home of the San Francisco 49ers American football team.
The tournament will conclude with a final at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on June 26, drawing a line under what is arguably the biggest tournament held in the US since the 1994 World Cup.
Billed as a celebration of football across the Americas, 10 South American teams and six teams from the CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) region make up the field.
For organisers, the mere fact that the tournament is taking place at all is something of a triumph.
Messi and Argentina will be aiming to win the country's first major title since the 1993 Copa America after a series of recent near-misses.
The Argentines lost both the 2014 World Cup final and the 2015 Copa America in Chile.
The Argentina captain, due in Spain today to attend his trial for tax fraud, which began earlier this week, says it is time Argentina's talented players delivered.
"It has been a very long time since Argentina has won anything, and this group came very close in the World Cup and at the last Copa America," he told Sports Illustrated on the eve of the tournament.
"I think we deserve to be champions of an important competition."
Argentina open their campaign against Chile in Santa Clara on Monday. Panama and Bolivia complete Group D.
The US, meanwhile, will aim to build on their encouraging performance at the 2014 World Cup, when they reached the knockout round, by progressing from a "group of death" which includes Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay.
Five-time World Cup winners Brazil will be favoured to safely navigate Group B, where they face Ecuador, Haiti and Peru.
The Brazilians open against Ecuador at Pasadena's Rose Bowl on Saturday - where they won the 1994 World Cup final.
Mexico and Uruguay will be expected to progress from Group C, with Jamaica and Venezuela completing the field.