The sleazy background to the competition threatened to take the shine off an event which will bring together some of the world’s best players.
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. Messi, due in Spain this week to attend his trial for tax fraud, 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 next Monday. Panama and Bolivia complete Group D.
The United States 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 – scene of their victory at the 1994 World Cup final.
Mexico and Uruguay will be expected to progress from Group C, with Jamaica and Venezuela completing the field.