In-form Lionel Messi delivered again for Argentina when it mattered the most most at the Monumental de Nunez Stadium. The Argentinian skipper, who has moved to the MLS, scored a match-winning free-kick goal in the 78th minute, for a 1-0 victory against Ecuador in the opening round of South American World Cup qualifiers.
Playing his 176th international match, Leo Messi scored his 104th international goal, including his 29th in World Cup qualifying matches, equalling the record held by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
Despite hitting the post and crossbar during the match and offering Ecuador multiple counter-attack opportunities, Argentina had been unable to break through. Ecuador’s defence, led by Moises Caicedo, marked Messi for most of the game.
— CONMEBOL.com (@CONMEBOL) September 8, 2023
However, the latter’s decisive moment came when he struck a shot from the edge of the box, beating goalkeeper Hernan Galindez as the ball nestled near the left post.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, who has been in chareg of the team for five years, surprised fans by deploying a different formation from the win over France in the Qatar World Cup final. He benched Angel Di María and started Nicolas Gonzalez. The manager also chose Lautaro Martinez as his centre forward instead of Julian Alvarez. Although Di Maria was brought in during the second half, Argentina continued to struggle in creating clear chances.
In other matches, Colombia defeated Venezuela 1-0 with a goal from Rafael Santos Borre in the 46th minute, while Paraguay and Peru played to a goalless draw.
Argentina and Colombia lead the standings with three points each, followed by Paraguay and Peru with one point each. Ecuador is at minus three points due to a FIFA punishment related to the falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who has Colombian origins.
The first round of South American qualifying will conclude with Brazil hosting Bolivia and Uruguay facing Chile on Friday. All ten teams in the region will play their second round of matches on Tuesday.
For the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which will feature a 48-team format, the top six positions in South America will secure direct spots, while the seventh-place team will compete in an intercontinental playoff for a berth.