Argentina, the defending World Cup champions, beat Ecuador 1-0 in their home opener in South American qualifying on Thursday thanks to a classic curling free-kick from Lionel Messi.
As South American qualifying for the 2026 World Cup got underway, Colombia defeated Venezuela 1-0, while Peru held Paraguay to a scoreless draw despite playing with ten men.
Messi, who led Argentina to a third World Cup victory in Qatar last December, has not yet said whether he will remain with his national side until 2026. However, he demonstrated his importance once again by scoring the game-winning goal on what otherwise could have been a frustrating night for Lionel Scaloni’s squad.
In the 78th minute, after Lautaro Martinez had won a central free-kick just beyond the Ecuador penalty area, Messi took it and dipped it brilliantly over the wall to beat the stranded Hernan Galindez.
With the goal, Messi tied Luis Suarez of Uruguay for first place as the all-time leading scorer in South American qualifying games.
Against an Ecuadorian team that defended in numbers and only attacked on the rare counter, the Albiceleste dominated possession.
In the 16th minute, Messi was found on the edge of the box, but he skewed his side-footed shot high and wide.
Lautaro Martinez came even closer right before halftime when he dove to meet Rodrigo De Paul, and his shot hit the post.
In the 69th minute, Messi created a good scoring chance for himself, but his low shot was feeble and easily saved by Galindez.
Messi’s goal lifted the Estadio Monumental crowd of 80,000 to its feet, and from there on out, everything went swimmingly for Argentina.
De Paul, who had been fantastic all game, dribbled in from the right and set up substitute Angel Di Maria, whose shot was just off target.
Then, with time running out, De Paul forced a great stop from Galindez with a close-range shot at the near post.
“Ecuador showed they have very good players, that they are physically strong, and that they are clear about what they do,” Messi remarked.
We are well aware of the fact that we must always give our all in order to win. He continued, “But we demonstrated that this group will not rest on their laurels, which are truly historic and extraordinary.”
We must remember that, despite how much fun we had, our time together is over. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner emphasized the importance of planning ahead.