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The 'Mes-si!' chants started more than an hour before Copa America opener, and he sets up both goals

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The 'Mes-si!' chants started more than an hour before Copa America opener, and he sets up both goals
News

News

The 'Mes-si!' chants started more than an hour before Copa America opener, and he sets up both goals

2024-06-21 13:25 Last Updated At:13:31

ATLANTA (AP) — The chants of “Mes-si! Mes-si! Mes-si!" started more than an hour before kickoff and kept up throughout Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday night in the Copa America opener.

Lionel Messi set up both goals on a night he played in his record 35th Copa America match. His pass led to Julián Álvarez's goal in the 49th minute and he extended his tournament assists record to 18 when he fed Lautaro Martínez in the 89th.

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Argentina's Lionel Messi blows a bubble ahead of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

ATLANTA (AP) — The chants of “Mes-si! Mes-si! Mes-si!" started more than an hour before kickoff and kept up throughout Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Canada on Thursday night in the Copa America opener.

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after missing a chance during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after missing a chance during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, 10, and Canada's Jonathan Osorio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, 10, and Canada's Jonathan Osorio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez, right, embraces teammate Lionel Messi at the end of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez, right, embraces teammate Lionel Messi at the end of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, and Canada's Stephen Eustaquio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, and Canada's Stephen Eustaquio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

“You need someone like Leo to make that pass," Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.

Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium was transformed into a sea of blue and white jerseys as if it was an Argentina home game. Messi remained at 108 international goals, despite several good scoring opportunities. His 13 career Copa America goals are four shy of the record.

“I feel like we’ve had a good match plan and we’ve executed a lot of good things but he’s so good," Canada coach Jesse Marsch said.

The match was Messi's last as a 36 year old. He turns 37 on Monday, and Argentina plays Chile the following day at East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Albiceleste finish the first round against Peru on June 29 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, not far from Messi's club home in Fort Lauderdale with Major League Soccer's Inter Miami. The July 14 final also is at Hard Rock.

Messi failed to convert on a pair of excellent chances. Goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau made a diving stop in the 65th minute and Messi’s attempt off the rebound was blocked by the head of defender Derek Cornelius. Messi put a chip wide after he came in alone on Crépeau in the 79th.

“On the field everything goes so fast. Obviously you know Messi is there," Crépeau said.

AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Argentina's Lionel Messi blows a bubble ahead of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi blows a bubble ahead of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after missing a chance during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after missing a chance during a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, 10, and Canada's Jonathan Osorio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, 10, and Canada's Jonathan Osorio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez, right, embraces teammate Lionel Messi at the end of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez, right, embraces teammate Lionel Messi at the end of a Copa America Group A soccer match against Canada in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, and Canada's Stephen Eustaquio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, and Canada's Stephen Eustaquio battle for the ball during a Copa America Group A soccer match in Atlanta, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Jason Allen)

A court has convicted Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday.

The conviction in Kazan, the capital of Russia's central region of Tatarstan, came on Friday, the same day a court in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg convicted Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in prison in a case that the U.S. called politically motivated.

Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old editor for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir language service, was convicted of “spreading false information” about the military, according to the website of the Supreme Court of Tatarstan. Court spokesperson Natalya Loseva confirmed Kurmasheva's conviction and revealed the sentence to The Associated Press by phone in the case classified as secret.

Kurmasheva was ordered to serve the sentence in a medium-security penal colony, Loseva said.

“My daughters and I know Alsu has done nothing wrong. And the world knows it too. We need her home,” Kurmasheva's husband, Pavel Butorin, said in a post Monday on X.

He had said last year the charges stemmed from a book the Tatar-Bashkir service released in 2022 called “No to War” — “a collection of short stories of Russians who don’t want their country to be at war with Ukraine.” Butorin had said the book doesn’t contain any “false information.”

Asked about the case, RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus denounced the trial and conviction of Kurmasheva as “a mockery of justice.”

“The only just outcome is for Alsu to be immediately released from prison by her Russian captors,” he said in a statement to the AP.

“It’s beyond time for this American citizen, our dear colleague, to be reunited with her loving family,” Capus said.

Kurmasheva, who holds U.S. and Russian citizenship and lives in Prague with her husband and two daughters, was taken into custody in October 2023 and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent while collecting information about the Russian military.

Later, she was also charged with spreading “false information” about the Russian military under legislation that effectively criminalized any public expression about the war in Ukraine that deviates from the Kremlin line. The legislation was adopted in March 2022, just days after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine, and has since been used to target Kremlin critics at home and abroad, implicating scores of people in criminal cases and sending dozens to prison.

Kurmasheva was initially stopped in June 2023 at Kazan International Airport after traveling to Russia the previous month to visit her ailing elderly mother. Officials confiscated her U.S. and Russian passports and fined her for failing to register her U.S. passport. She was waiting for her passports to be returned when she was arrested on new charges in October that year. RFE/RL has repeatedly called for her release.

RFE/RL was told by Russian authorities in 2017 to register as a foreign agent, but it has challenged Moscow’s use of foreign agent laws in the European Court of Human Rights. The organization has been fined millions of dollars by Russia.

In February, RFE/RL was outlawed in Russia as an undesirable organization. Its Tatar-Bashkir service is the only major international news provider reporting in those languages, in addition to Russian, to audiences in the multiethnic, Muslim-majority Volga-Urals region.

The swift and secretive trials of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich in Russia’s highly politicized legal system raised hopes for a possible prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington. Russia has previously signaled a possible exchange involving Gershkovich, but said a verdict in his case must come first.

Arrests of Americans are increasingly common in Russia, with nine U.S. citizens known to be detained there as tensions between the two countries have escalated over fighting in Ukraine.

Gershkovich, 32, was arrested March 29, 2023, while on a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. Authorities claimed, without offering any evidence, that he was gathering secret information for the U.S.

He has been behind bars since his arrest, time that will be counted as part of his sentence. Most of that was in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison — a czarist-era lockup used during Josef Stalin’s purges, when executions were carried out in its basement. He was transferred to Yekaterinburg for the trial.

Gershkovich was the first U.S. journalist arrested on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986, at the height of the Cold War. Foreign journalists in Russia were shocked by Gershkovich’s arrest, even though the country has enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden said after his conviction that Gershkovich “was targeted by the Russian government because he is a journalist and an American.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow last week of treating “human beings as bargaining chips.” She singled out Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, 53, a corporate security director from Michigan, who is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted on spying charges that he and the U.S. denied.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that when it comes to Gershkovich, Whelan and other Americans wrongfully detained in Russia and elsewhere, the U.S. is working on the cases “quite literally every day.”

Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis said the conviction and sentencing of Kurmasheva and Gershkovich on the same day “suggests — but does not prove — that the Kremlin is preparing a deal. More likely, they are preparing to offer up a negotiating table that Washington will find it difficult to ignore.”

In a series of posts on X, Greene stressed that “the availability of a negotiating table shouldn’t be confused with the availability of a deal,” and that Moscow has no interest in releasing its prisoners — but it is likely to "seek the highest possible price for its bargaining chips, and to seek additional concessions along the way just to keep the talks going.”

Washington “should obviously do what it can” to get Gershkovich, Kurmasheva, imprisoned opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza and other political prisoners out, he said, adding: “But if Moscow demands what it really wants — the abandonment of Ukraine — what then?”

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on April 1, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on April 1, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on May 31, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tatar-Bashkir service, attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia on May 31, 2024. A Russian court has convicted Kurmasheva of spreading false information about the Russian army and sentenced her to 6½ years in prison after a secret trial, court records and officials said Monday July 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

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