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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Almost eight years ago to the day, Lionel Messi stood at MetLife Stadium moments after losing the 2016 Copa America final on penalties to Chile and made a declaration.

"For me, the national team is over," he said. "I've done all that I can."

The then-29-year-old superstar had well and truly assumed his duties as the leader of his national team, but the expectations from a country that demanded success clearly weighed heavy on him. The inevitably of failure was setting in -- it marked the third summer in a row that Argentina lost a major final, previously conceding the 2014 World Cup to Germany and the 2015 Copa America to Chile. As surprising as Messi's retirement was with several years ahead of him, it was hard not to buy his argument -- there probably was nothing else he could do.

And yet, the mood was as different as it gets on Monday afternoon as Argentina returned to the New York suburbs, where head coach Lionel Scaloni fielded questions about celebrating Messi's 37th birthday -- and their group stage encounter with Chile on Tuesday at the site of the captain's lowest point for the national team.

"The cups that Chile won, the cups that we won … that is in the past," Scaloni told members of the media in his pre-match press conference on Monday. "We are living in the present and this team knows that very well. Each match is a different history and we have to face it as it comes. Previous titles don't change that."

For Argentina, it helps that much has changed since Messi quit the national team. His sabbatical was short-lived -- he reversed his decision that August and stayed the course during a few bumpy years, eventually ending his trophy drought with the 2021 Copa America and followed it up with the 2022 World Cup title. It also helps that Messi is one of just three players on the 2024 team that also took part in the 2016 tournament. La Albiceleste carry the weight of being the world champions well in large part because they have a talented, multigenerational group that includes 26-year-old center back Cristian Romero and 19-year-old Alejandro Garnacho.

That combination of players affords them the label of Copa America favorites, though there's room for improvement at this early stage of the tournament. Argentina dominated in their 2-0 win over Canada on Thursday but left a little bit to be desired on both ends of the pitch. They took 19 shots but underperformed on their 3.02 expected goals tally, all while letting Canada take 10 shots at their goal. Scaloni played his cards very close to his chest on his tactical plans for Chile, but he did suggest that limiting the opponent's attack is an area of improvement after Thursday's win.

"We have a very particular strategy and game plan and the opponent poses difficulties," he said. "What we do is try to adjust, try to avoid damage to our team and we will try to find the spaces, given the opponent, but the opponent will set the tone of its attack and of course, we will be cautious about that and it's valid to do so."

Scaloni said he and his coaching staff already have their lineup picked out but he was not just withholding it from members of the media -- the players were unaware of his selections, too. Romero and Lisandro Martinez have been Scaloni's first choices at center back in recent weeks and there's little to suggest they will be replaced barring fitness concerns, while the head coach is spoiled for choice in attack. Julian Alvarez started alongside Messi against Canada and scored the game's opening goal, while substitute Lautaro Martinez notched the second and Alexis Mac Allister assisted Alvarez's effort.

Naturally, though, Messi remains Argentina's focal point, especially during what could be his final major international tournament. He impressed on Thursday with an assist on Lautaro Martinez's goal, demonstrating that he can still compete at elite levels even if a final retirement announcement feels right around the corner. The hopes of a nation seem to lift him rather than weigh him down, an effect Scaloni said translates to the team as a whole. There's no question that he's a motivating factor for the national team and it's clear that Argentina will soak up each remaining moment they have with Messi, both on the field and as he blows out the birthday candles on Monday night.

"I think that it's very important to have him here," Scaloni said about Messi. "Everyone's asking about the future, the past but this is the lovely present … The present is very important. What's in the past is in the past and he is enjoying his birthday. We want him to have a good time."