Lionel Messi may be 36 years old, but at this stage of his career, the Inter Miami hero feels more inevitable than ever. ratings vs Ecuador
No matter what shirt he wears, no matter who lines up alongside or opposite him, no matter who stands between the posts, Messi finds a way to deposit the ball in the back of the net.
A 78th-minute free-kick goal from the Argentinian legend sent the defending FIFA World Cup champions through to victory, opening 2026 qualifying with a 1-0 win over Ecuador in Buenos Aires. The goal put Messi on the scoresheet for an eighth straight international match, and gave Argentina all three points to begin the expanded World Cup cycle.
Argentina player ratings vs Ecuador.
Ecuador put in a true shift defensively, hemming in the Argentina attack for long stretches of the match, but as Messi stepped up to the ball with 12 minutes remaining, it seemed like a matter of time before the hosts went ahead, and that’s exactly what happened.
Messi scored a free kick in the 78th minute to lead Argentina to a 1-0 win over Ecuador during a 2026 World Cup qualifying match on Thursday night.
Messi – playing in his first game with Argentina since the 2022 World Cup final – scored in patented fashion, his left boot finding the left side of the net and leaving Ecuadorian goalkeeper Hernan Galindez cowering down to one knee after the score.
Messi celebrated with his arms spread out wide and a run toward his Argentina teammates, who mobbed him as fans inside Estadio Más Monumental celebrated despite the cold temperatures in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
How will Argentina fare in 2026 World Cup qualifying?
Argentina is expected to reach the World Cup again.
Argentina has three points in Conmebol qualifying, following its win over Ecuador. Ecuador ends the match with minus-three points.
Due to the World Cup expansion for 2026, six South American teams will qualify directly for the World Cup. A seventh team will play in the FIFA playoff tournament. ratings vs Ecuador
With the 2022 World Cup now behind them, Argentina’s road to defending their title began on Thursday night. They hosted Ecuador in their first World Cup qualifier of this cycle, and as the match wore on, it became abundantly clear that the defending winners would need a hero.
And there’s no prizes for guessing who that hero would inevitably be. Lionel Messi scored a stunning late free kick, lifting his side to a 1-0 win. Argentina were far from their best on this night, and Ecuador were more than good enough to contain them for large stretches. However, when one team has Messi in this kind of form, sometimes that’s all it takes. ratings vs Ecuador
The Argentine captain wasn’t the only standout, though. The attack, by and large, spluttered, but Argentina’s midfield was as good as advertised. The trio of Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister have carried on momentum from last winter’s World Cup and put in quite a shift to help their side to a win. ratings vs Ecuador