Argentina Canada splitGetty/GOAL

Argentina player ratings vs Canada: Playmaker Lionel Messi ignites Copa America title defense as Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez strike

In the hours leading up to Thursday's Copa America opener, the city of Atlanta was preparing for a party. Blue and white shirts flooded the streets. "Muchachos", Argentina's official 2022 World Cup anthem, could be heard from all corners. Men, women, children of all ages, all yelled the same name on every path to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"Messi! Messi! Messi!"

The party, as it turns out, would be delayed a bit. For a while, it looked uncertain that it would happen at all. Canada were determined to play spoilers and, for quite a while there, they spoiled everything Argentina threw at them. The big moment did eventually come, though, and the tens of thousands of Argentina fans in the stadium could celebrate a scrappy 2-0 win. The Copa America title defense has officially begun.

It took until the opening moments of the second half for Argentina to find their breakthrough, but it eventually came on a scrappy finish from Julian Alvarez. The almighty Lionel Messi played his part, providing the hockey assist to earn the adoration of the crowd, but this one wasn't easy, particularly for the GOAT, who wasted several chances to put the game away in the second half. In the end, though, he wouldn't be denied, as his fantastic assist for Lautaro Martinez's game-sealing goal ensured Argentina would start this tournament on a high.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Messi said postgame. "Very physical, in the first half there was little space. Luckily we found the goal quickly in the second half, but it was still complicated."

Canada, to their credit, were arguably the better side during the first 45. They defended about as well as you can against the World Champions and, particularly, as well as you can against Messi.

On the other end, Tajon Buchanan and Stephen Eustaquio had legitimate chances to score, but they were chances wasted. You can't get away with that against Argentina, and this tournament's defending champions made them pay.

"We knew it was going to be hard," goalkeeper Emi Martinez told FOX. "It is the Copa America. The pitch wasn't great - it was very bumpy - in other areas, it was very hard for us. We like the pitch to be quite slippery and quick for our style of game but listen: this team wants more. We're not satisfied here. We go game-by-game and we can go all the way."

It wasn't a vintage performance, but it was one that got it done on the night. With three points in the bag, Argentina's title defense is underway and the party might only be just beginning.

"We just want to enjoy today, have fun together tonight," Martinez said. "And then tomorrow we think about Chile."

GOAL rates Argentina's players from Mercedes-Benz Stadium...

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