Lionel Messi scored his 104th goal for Argentina in a 1-0 win over Ecuador.
With the score still scoreless in the 78th minute, Messi stepped up and curled a perfect shot over the wall of defenders, removing Ecuadorian goalkeeper Hernán Galendez from the penalty spot and reducing him to just another spectator.
He proved to be the winner in Argentina’s 1-0 win, and the Inter Miami striker then received a huge ovation when he was substituted in the 89th minute.
“We know that these are difficult matches in the qualifiers,” Messi told reporters after the match. He added: “Ecuador has very good players, they know what they are doing and they are very good physically. It was a very tough match, very physical. I was a bit tired – that’s why I was substituted – but I felt good.
“Not so long ago, we were world champions, but it seems a lot has happened since then. We have to keep progressing, competing and qualifying for the next World Cup, taking it one game at a time.
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Messi produced another magical moment for Argentina.
“We showed in the friendlies we played and today in today’s match for the points that this group will not relax. Everyone wants to beat Argentina, and now that we are champions, it is even more desirable.”
Messi’s goal was his 29th in World Cup qualifiers, equaling the record set by his old Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez. In total, Messi now has 104 goals in 176 appearances for the national team.
While the Albiceleste The well-organized Ecuadorian team, which is expected to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, dominated the home team’s attack for most of the match.
However, there was nothing that could stop Messi’s magical moment at the end of the second half.
The newly expanded World Cup means the top six of South America’s 10 teams are now guaranteed a place in the 2026 edition, with the country finishing seventh and entering a cross-continental mini-play-off tournament to try and secure a place.
The captain later received a standing ovation.
In other matches, Colombia began its campaign on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Venezuela, while Paraguay tied 0-0 at home with Peru, which played with ten men.
The first round matches continue on Friday, with Brazil hosting Bolivia, and Uruguay hosting Chile.
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