Less than 12 months after lifting the prestigious Jules Rimet trophy, Argentina, led by Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi, began their qualifying campaign for the 2026 tournament against Ecuador at a bouncing Estadio Monumental. As expected, Lionel Scaloni’s side dominated the early proceedings, having over two-thirds of possession. Messi almost opened the scoring around the quarter-hour mark but his snapshot from the edge of the box flashed inches wide.
Despite Argentina dominating with the ball, Ecuador dealt with their attacking threat relatively well as the half drew on, with only Lautaro Martinez coming close to breaking the deadlock but he was denied by the post. La Tri’s game plan of stifling their opponents by making it a stop-start affair seemed to be working to perfection, with two of Chelsea’s £100 million+ midfielders, Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernández, in particular providing a battle in the middle of the park.
Scaloni sent an unchanged Argentina XI out for the second half and they picked up right where they left off, having large spells of possession but the downfall coming in the final third, where they came up against a resolute Ecuadorian defence. With time running out, a relatively quiet Messi was beginning to take hold of the game, first causing a scramble in the Ecuador box with a free-kick that was eventually cleared, followed by a trademark mazy run but his shot was comfortably saved by Hernán Galíndez.
Just as Messi was beginning to look more threatening for his nation, he once again popped up with a fantastic goal, curling in a free-kick from the edge of the box to leave Galíndez standing still. Being a goal down, Ecuador had to come out and attack in order to find an equaliser, leaving them exposed at the back against the ever-dangerous Argentina attackers. However, Messi’s goal proved to be the winning one, kicking off La Albiceleste’s qualifying campaign with a victory, and they will head to Bolivia next, whilst Ecuador will host Uruguay.