Lionel Messi strikes as Argentina beat Ecuador in opening World Cup qualifier | Argentina

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Lionel Messi’s second-half goal gave Argentina a 1-0 home win over Ecuador on Thursday to get the world champions’ qualifying campaign for the 2026 finals off to a positive start.

Argentina were dominant in possession but frustrated in attack as they struggled to make the breakthrough in front of a large crowd in Buenos Aires. Once again it was Messi who came to their rescue, continuing the excellent form he has shown for Inter Miami by scoring from a free kick after 77 minutes.

“Everyone always wants to beat Argentina and even more so now that we are the world champions,” said the 36-year-old. “We can’t relax, we have to improve on what we’ve been doing. The objective is to qualify for the World Cup again. We really enjoyed what we did but we have to look ahead.”

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Lionel Messi bursts through the attentions of Ecuador’s Pervis Estupinan, left, and Moises Caicedo in typically captivating style
Lionel Messi bursts through the attentions of Ecuador’s Pervis Estupinan, left, and Moises Caicedo in typically captivating style. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Messi’s goal also tied him with former Barcelona teammate Luis Suárez as the all-time top scorer in South American qualifying competition with 29.

“It’s a pleasure for me that we are both there,” said Messi, who has now scored 104 international goals. “Given what the qualifiers mean for us in South American football, it’s a very nice thing for both of us.”

Argentina next play at Bolivia on Tuesday.

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