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Argentina vs Ecuador, summary: Messi, score, goals & highlights | CONMEBOL World Cup 2026 qualifiers

Update:
In what turned out to be feisty battle against a dogged Ecuadorian side, Argentina’s star rose to the occasion once more with an exquisite free kick.

Winning can't always be pretty

Playing in Buenos Aires for the first game of their title defense was always going to be something special, but on a night when Argentina needed to start strongly, it's got to be said that there was nothing stand out about the team's performance. Of course credit must be given to their opponents Ecuador, who worked tirelessly across the 90 minutes to close space, cut channels, and above all contain Leo Messi.

Special mention must be made of Moises Caicedo who stuck to Argentina's captain like gum on the bottom of your shoe. Indeed, one could tell that Messi himself was impressed by the 21-year-old from the manner in which they exchanged across the game. Yet, the odds were always going to be stacked against the Ecuadorians coming into this one, and despite the fact that they more or less limited Argentina to a handful of clear cut chances - both sides had 3 shots on goal - you got the feeling that it was only a matter of time before the world champions got it right.

That moment came in the 78th minute when Messi converted a beautiful free kick from just in front of the box. To be fair to Gallinez in Ecuador's goal, few if any shot stoppers in the world would have had a chance at stopping the effort. If you ask me, none.

So, with that Messi did what Messi does and once more the Albiceleste were off and running. Interestingly, what occurred next was perhaps the only period of the game where both sides played some attractive football. That's not to say it was ugly before, but it was more akin to a battle of braun that one of wits. That's precisely why Di Maria's late contributions and those of Ecuador's two substitutes, Ortiz and Rodriguez, where welcome sights.

Ultimately, Argentina were the better side, but not by a whole lot. There will be undoubtedly valuable lessons learned from tonight as Scaloni and his men go forward. As for Ecuador, though they will feel frustrated with the loss, one has to imagine that they will take many positives from a night when they went toe for toe with the champions of the world. With that, I hope you enjoyed the coverage and I bid you a goodnight!

Paul Rudder
94

So said so done. The referee blows his whistle for the last time and it's a 1-0 win for Argentina over Ecuador in what is the first game of their World Cup qulification campaign.

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93

We've got 30 seconds now and Argentina are attempting to kill time by the corner flag. They will play this one out and that appears to be that.

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92:30

A lovely play from the Albiceleste that ended with Di Maria slipping the ball to De Paul, but his shot is expertly saved by Gallinez at the near post.

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92

We will have 4 minutes total of stoppage time meaning we've got 2 to go as Argentina break

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90

We've arrived at the 90th minute and Gallindez is force to punch the ball clear after a dangerous ball into his area. Ecuador break but are swarmed. There's a collision between Di Maria and Sifuentes and both stay down. In the end it's nothing serious and we resume with a free kick to Argentina.

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89

A cynical foul there from Cifuentes, but there will be no card. Off we go again.

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88

Messi will depart with 2 minutes left. A job well done for the captain being the man that provided Argentina with its 1-0 lead. Needless to say the stadium is on its feet.

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87

It's back and forth now and once again Ecuador break through Ortiz who provides a tempting cross to the back post, but it's just too deep for Caicedo.

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86

Ortiz wins it back and the ball is switched to the left side where they will have a throw. Off they go once again, but in the end Argentina gain possession and immediately break.

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86

Ecuador come forward through Ortiz who has been productive since entering, but he's robbed by an excellent tackle from Tagliafico.

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84

A lovely run inside from De Paul who in the end managed to play Di Maria in for a an open look at goal. Truth be told his finish that rolled just wide of the far post suggests that he was between minds as to whether to shoot or cross. Should have been 2-0

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83

Argentina having retreated attempt to work around the area but once again Ecuador stand firm and force them back.

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82

To their credit, Ecuador is not lying down, but as I say that Argentina robs the ball and the counter is started. Luckily Di Maria's first touch on the right side fails him, allowing the defense to settle.

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81

We've got another card after Paredes chopped down Caicedo.

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80

Ecuador will make two changes with Mena and Preciado entering for Torres and Hurtado respectively.

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What a goal from Leo Messi

What can you do when facing a player that good? Nothing really to be honest, other than enjoy the view.

Paul Rudder
77

And just like that! It's Messi magic once more as the resulting freekick is converted by the Argentine captain. Gallindez took to steps to his right and realized he had no chance. 1-0 Argentina and the Monumental erupts as Messi equals Luis Suarez's record for most goals in CONEMBOL qualification.

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76

It will be Lautaro's last moment as he limps off the field. He is joined by Mac Alister as both make way for Julian Alvarez and Paredes respectively.

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75

A dangerous corner from Di Maria is just cleared but no matter as Martinez is fouled at the edge of the box. Argentina free kick but first we will have two changes.

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74

As I say that, Argentina wins the ball and Di Maria is released down the right side. After a lovely combination with De Paul, the ball is deflected for a corner.

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73

Ecuador is starting to find confidence in these last few minutes as Ortiz once again is the protagonist.

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72

Clever play from Messi once more in front of the area as he finds Di Maria whose cross is lovely, but Gallindez is alert to the threat and punches it clear.

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71

A lovely piece of play from the two substitutes with Rodriguez playing in Ortiz. Unfortunately the latter's final ball across the face of goal is cut out by Argentina's defense.

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70

We're inside the final 20 minutes of the game and Ecuador have got a throw in..

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69

Of course having said that, Messi shows up with a lovely piece of skill in front of the area - he sat a defender down - before releasing a shot. Sadly, it's tame and Ecuador can breathe again.

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68

Argentina are working the ball laterally at the moment as they look for an opening and I've got to agree with the commentator who has noted that Argentina and specifcally Messi, are missing a bit of their usual spark. Wear and tear from an intense MLS season perhaps?

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66

Ecuador will make two changes with Plata and Cifuentes heading out and Rodriguez and Ortiz coming in respectively.

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64

Ecuador looked to be making headway but it's brought to an end and Di Maria is released. The Benfica man shows some great skill to find Martinez on the right, but his cross isn't good enough. Ecuador break.

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62

Ecuador attempting to retain possession but are once again robbed in the middle and Argentina start to probe once more.

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61:30

Incidentally that will be Gonzales' last action of the night as he's substituted for Angel Di Maria.

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60

We've got our first card of the game and it's Cifuentes who picks it up for a heavy challenge on Nico Gonzales.

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59

A decent counter from Ecuador as they find themselves in a three on three contest. In the end Valencia is brought down fairly in the area by Romero and Ecuador will have a corner.

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58

Di Maria is preparing to enter the fray, which is about to say it's about to go down. If there is one thing the Benfica man brings, it's the vertical game.

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57

In the follow up play there is some clever play from Lautaro who finds Messi at the top of the area, who in turn lays it off for Tagliafico, but his rocket of a shot rises to high. It would have been spectacular.

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56:30

Otamendi and Tagliafico combine well on the left before switching the ball to the right. Molina is the recipient and his ball is dangerous but a little too deep.

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56

Valencia gets a rare touch compared with his role in the 1st half but he's won a throw for Ecuador.

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55

In the follow play Messi is adjudged to have handled the ball, but honestly Caicedo was there once again like a shadow.

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54:45

A great delivery from Messi which saw the ball bouncing in no man's land in front of the goal. Unfortunately for Argentina, Fernandez's point blank range shot was blocked.

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54

From the right side of the area, it's Messi to take.

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53

And we've got a foul on De Paul at the corner of the box which in turn results in a bit of a skirmish. For the moment Caicedo remains on the ground but it will be an Argentina free kick from a dangerous spot.

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52

On the sideline we've also got young Garnacho. The Manchester United youngster has proven himself to be a very decent acquisition for the English side. Can he do the same here today?

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51

Argentina has got a few on the sideline warming up and among them is Angel Di Maria. It's clear that they're missing a bit more impetus as they appear to be running out of ideas for the moment.

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50

Otamendi finds Messi with a bullet pass and the magician plays it wide to the left side to Tagliafico. His cross is a dangerous one but nobody is on the end. Ecuador breathe once more.

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49

Ecaudor finally get it back but as I say that Plata is unable to control on the left side of midfield and Argentina will have a throw.

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48

Argentina enjoying a long spell of possession which is almost ended by Caicedo, but Messi turns up to oversee proceedings an the attack switches to the left.

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46:45

Messi's corner is a dangerous one and Gallindez is forced to clear his lines. Back come Argentina.

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46

Argentina have begun by playing from left to right, while Ecuador has maintained its compact form in the middle. An attempted through ball for Lautaro is cleared for a corner. Messi to take.

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45

And away we go. It's Argentina who gets us off and running once again.

Paul Rudder

It's that time again

The players are in the tunnel and as far as I can tell, there have been no changes to the lineups of either side.

Paul Rudder

A better look at Moisés Caicedo

Like I said before, he's been immense and here you can see exactly what that looked like.

Paul Rudder

Caicedo isn't about that life

Ya gotta give it to Ecuador. They came into this one knowing they'd be up against it and they've risen to the occasion. Moisés Caicedo has been immense in the middle and even more impressive is the fact that he's done so legally.

Paul Rudder

What to make of the 1st half?

I think what we can take from the opening 45 is that Ecuador are determined not to lose even if they can't win, an approach that one has to admit is reasonable in the face of the challenge they face. Moreover they've gone about their objective in the most dogged way.

Where Argentina is concerned, while one can argue that they should do better, credit must be given to their opponent for disrupting their play throughout the entirety of the first half. There have been few moments in which Argentina has been allowed to find its rhythm.

With that said, one gets the feeling that as legs tire and space opens up, they will be made to pay for it. Indeed, in the moments where things have clicked for the Albiceleste, it's been nothing more than luck of the draw that's saved Ecuador.

Stay with me for the second. I think it's gonna be a good one.

Paul Rudder

Lautaro's chance

Here's a look at what really should have been Argentina's opening goal. The Inter Milan hitman will be ruing this miss no doubt!

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47

Following that moment of truth, the referee brings the first half to a close and we're tied at 0-0.

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47

What a chance! Though Ecuador will likely complain that we've gone over time by a minute, Lautaro's close shot hits the post!

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46

A series of brutal challenges from both sides as we come to a close, but surprisingly all are judged to be legal as the referee keeps his whistle quiet.

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45

We will have 1 minute of added time as the corner is taken an cleared by Ecuador.

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44

Argentina are probing now and of course it's Messi who is put on the ball. He finds Tagliafico on the left who in turn works back to the middle an De Paul's early ball into the box forces Ecuador's defense to head over the bar. A corner.

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43:00

After switching to the right, it's Messi who looks to combine with Lautaro, but the latter just can't find the return ball for his captain.Ecuador breathe once again.

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42:20

It's Nico Gonzalez on the left side who is policed by Hurtado, forcing Argentina to retreat.

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41:00

Ecuador bring the ball forward and it's Caicedo who is again fouled by De Paul in the midfield. Once more the Argentine protests. He will need to watch himself if he wants to stay out of the referee's book.

Paul Rudder
40:30

We're inside the final five minutes of the half and I've got to say that there's been not much to separate the sides so far. Neither has had a clear look at goal though the possession stats will favor Argentina.

Paul Rudder
39:00

Messi is found in space on the right and you can see the panic in the body language of Ecuador's players. Fortunately for them, Messi's ball to Enzo Fernandez is too long. Ecuador emerge.

Paul Rudder
38:00

Ecuador has packed the middle of the field with bodies in a clear attempt to frustrate Argentina, and to be honest it's working as the exchanges between players continue to get more and more heated.

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37:00

Following the free kick which it has to be said was wasted, Argentina are now back on attack. Messi has dropped deep into midfield and attempts to bring it forward but is robbed by Plata for a throw.

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36:00

Ecuador have got a man on the ground after another heavy foul from Ma Alister. It appears to be Valencia who is now on his feet given that his side have a free kick as a result.

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34:00

As I say that Argentina pick it back up with Messi who has now changed to the left side. Following a combination with Lautaro, the Inter striker pushes the ball too long and Ecuador will have a goal kick.

Paul Rudder
33:00

In the end the attack comes to nothing and Tino Martinez will start things off again as he rolls the ball to Otamendi. The pace has slowed somewhat.

Paul Rudder
32:35

A decent corner from Ecuador which ends in a spliced shot from the top of the box. Argentina are finally able to clear but Ecuador will have a throw from mid field.

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32:00

A lovely long ball from Ecuador's goalkeeper finds \Valencia on the left side. He's been a problem for Argentina when he's managed to get on the ball. Ecuador will have a corner following his skirmish with Molina.

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31:00

What looked like decent buildup is ended after De Paul makes a heavy challenge on Caicedo. By his protests he's not in agreement with the referee's decision.

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30:00

Following a bit of a pause for Plata's sake we're back at it and it's Molina and De Paul who are pulling the strings at the moment.

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28:00

Following the corner which is easily cleared Argentina recover the ball and work through De Paul who plays with Otamendi, but the defender is lax with the ball and loses it to Plata who he then collides with heavily. He's fortunate to not be given a card.

Paul Rudder
27:30

Again Argentina go close. This time through a low cross from Enzo Fernandez to Lautaro. Unfortunately, the Inter Milan man's close range shot is blocked and Argentina will have a corner.

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26:30

Tagliafico with a lovely pass to Enzo Fernandez, but the latter's cross is easily cleared and Ecuador breathe again.

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25:00

Estupinan is having a decent side, but he's completely at fault for what was almost Argentina's opening goal. A lovely combination between Lautaro and Messi, but the former's return ball was just too long.

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25:00

Ecuador are proving to be more resilient than one might have imagined, evidenced by Valencia getting off the side's first shot at Martinez's goal.

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21

The game has been brought to a halt after Enzo Fernandez is judged to have won the ball illegally. With no protests, we're off and running again.

Paul Rudder
19:30

Following Plata's failed foray, the ball was worked back through midfield and over to the left, where Enner Valencia was waiting, but he's stopped Molina almost immediately.

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19:00

Ecuador have once again been able to weather what was looking like an Argentine storm as Messi was starting to find space. They now look to probe along the right side with Plata in play.

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17:00

It's turning into a bit of a slog in midfield as Ecuador continues to defend staunchly. Not surprisingly, Argentina are now looking for their captain with greater frequency. Surely hoping that he will use his super natural powers to unlock Ecuador's defense.

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16:00

As the commentator just noted, with one more goal Messi will equal his friend and former teammate, Luis Suarez, as the player with the most goals for a national team in South American qualification.

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15

A lovely piece of play by the world champions as Tagliafico dummied the ball for Messi who arrived late with a left footed shot, that unbelievably was not on goal. They're beginning to get into their rhythm.

Paul Rudder
14:30

The intensity of the opening exchanges seems to have calmed for a bit.

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14

In their longest period of possession, Ecuador goes long with the ball and it almost works as Plata is found with a decent ball on the right. He's dispossesed by De Paul and Argentina come forward once more.

Paul Rudder
13:00

Briefly robbed by Messi who was on defensive duty, the Ecuadorians have got the ball once more and are finally settling down.

Paul Rudder
12:00

Ecuador manage to nip it off of De Paul in the middle and for the first time are enjoying a spell of possession.

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11:30

A deep clearance from Hernan Galindez in Ecuador's goal but too deep. Argentina come forward once again.

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11:00

Messi takes it and it's a decent ball if I'm honest. Were Lautaro Martinez a little quicker that would have been 1-0 from point blank range.

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10:00

From distance Argentina will attempt to float one into the box, but for the moment the medical staff is attending to Caicedo who seems to have come out of his challenge on Messi worse for wear.

Paul Rudder
9:00

A heavy foul on Messi in the middle from Caicedo and the Albiceleste will have a free kick in the middle. No card is shown.

Paul Rudder
8:30

Messi now getting his touches in as he combines with Tagliafico in front of the area, but Ecuador stands firm and the Argentines are forced to go home.

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8:00

Ecuador manage to intercept Mac Alister's ball into the middle but they give it away almost immediately, and to Messi to boot. Not a good idea.

Paul Rudder
7:00

To the right side we go with Molina and Enzo Fernandes, but now to the left to Mac Alister but he's muscled off the ball.

Paul Rudder
6:30

Promptly robbed of the ball in midfield, Ecuador are once again on the back foot. They will need to retain the ball for longer periods of time if they are to get something out of this.

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6:00

De Paul looks for Nico Gonzalez over the top of the defense this time but his ball is too long and Ecuador will have a goal kick.

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5:30

Again the play laterally as they look for an opening in what is an extended period of possession now.

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5:00

The Albiceleste are probing now as they play the ball home hoping to lull Ecuador into committing.

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4:30

Tagliafico is forced to bring it out of defense and finds Nico Gonzalez on the left but Ecuador are able to clear. Unfortunately only as far as the midfield. Argentina down the left again.

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4:00

a tricky back pass to Martinez in Argentina's goal almost presents Caicedo with a chance, but the World Cup winning goal keeper is aware of the threat and promptly clear the ball.

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3:00

There is a high tempo to this game in these opening exchanges. Can they maintain this?

Paul Rudder
2:20

What a great ball from Rodrigo De Paul to the right side where Alex Mac Alister was waiting. His low cross to Lautaro was cleared however.

Paul Rudder
1:20

Ecuador are employing a very high press, clearly stating their intentions for the night, but Argentina does not seem phased as Messi gets his first touch of the night to a roar of applause.

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1:00

And away we go! It's Ecuador who get us started in their familiar yellow jerseys, while Argentina are playing in their traditional white and blue strip. The excitement is immense.

Paul Rudder

What time is it? Game Time!

Just a few minutes to go before kickoff and it appears that both sides are ready to go! National anthems are being sung and players are on the field. It's a full house and I for one am ready to go. So, let's go!

Paul Rudder

Finding his range

Practice makes perfect as they say even when you're as close to sporting perfection as one's ever been. Enjoy a sneak peak of what's to come.

Paul Rudder

It's almost game time!

We're now less than 20 minutes away from kickoff in Buenos Aires and I've got the feeling that this match is going to be more complicated for the world champions than many believe. Ecuador have got pedigree and reason to believe in themselves following a string of impressive performances lately. At any rate, stay with me as it's about to get going!

Paul Rudder

Ecuador's starting 11

With the likes of Caicedo up front and Estupinan in the back, the Ecuadorians have some decent personnel on the field. Yet, they do face a monumental challenge in the form of the world champions and their talisman: Leo Messi.

Paul Rudder

Messi is in the building

The man himself has arrived and I for one am excited. Tonight will likely prove a decent test for the Albiceleste, but with Messi on the field, it's one they're likely to pass.

Paul Rudder
Why is Leo Messi’s American adventure with Inter Miami the best example of his greatness?

Here's some light reading for you Messi fans as we await kickoff. A shameless plug as I wrote it myself, I know, but perhaps you'll find it as fun to read as I found it to write. At any rate, we're now an hour away from kickoff so just a little longer and the action begins!

Paul Rudder

We're getting closer...

With a little over an hour to go before kickoff, I can say I'm starting to get excited for this one and something tells me that so too are the World Champions as they officially begin their title defense. Stick with me for this one!

Paul Rudder

Never forget...

"Remember that time when Messi..." How many times have those words been spoken as a prelude to some description of another impossible becomes reality moment in this man's career?

Paul Rudder

Is there a key battle in this one?

With Leo Messi on the field, it would be naive to believe that any team facing him hasn't made dealing with him its top priority.

Whether that's possible or not remains to be seen to be honest, but one has to try. To that end, I should mention the very talented Pervis Estupiñán. Ecuador's full-back has been in top form for the premier league's Brighton this season and looks the most likely to be tasked with containing the man generally considered to be the greatest player in history.

The problem for Estupiñán, however, is that Messi has also been in top form, scintillating really and you only need to consider the idea that he's scored 11 goals in 11 games for Inter Miami so far, to punctuate the point.

So, the question is: Can Ecuador stop Lionel Messi? Probably not, but if they can at the very least limit Argentina's channels of provision to him, then they might be able to get something out of this one. Of course, we are talking about a player that has no issue deconstructing an entire team by himself if that's what's required, but the night is young. Enjoy!

Paul Rudder

Argentina vs Ecuador: The head-to-head

As you can see below, the nations have met on 38 occasions, with Argentina winning 22 of those contests and drawing 11, while Ecuador have gotten the better of their continental compatriots five times.

Paul Rudder

Argentina's starting 11

You will notice that Lautaro Martinez and Nico González have been given the nod over Angel Di María and Julián Álvarez.

Paul Rudder
Argentina vs Ecuador: times, how to watch on TV, stream online | CONMEBOL QUALIFIERS

Though I'm sure you're going to love my commentary, if you'd like to watch the game then here's everything you need to know about how you can do just that!

Paul Rudder

Magical Messi

From the void that Inter Miami will have to try to fill in his absence to Argentina's hopes for 2026, and let's not forget the chances of him landing a record 8th Balon d'Or. It's Leo Messi's world folks and we're just living in it.

Paul Rudder

Welcome Welcome Welcome

In case you didn't get the message, I'd like to welcome you to AS USA's coverage of this CONEMBOL World Cup 2026 qualifier between Argentina and Ecuador.

The new world champions come into this one having won their last 11 games, which of course includes the World Cup final in which they triumphed over France in Qatar back in December last year. As for Ecuador, it would be fair to say that the team is no pushover. Having won their last 3 consecutive games, the Ecuadorians have shown that they know how to defend, evidenced by the fact that they've allowed just two goals in that trio of contests. Of course, it would also be fair to say that tonight's game will present a test like no other in the form of the man of mischief himself, Lionel Messi.

What can we say about Argentina's icon and team talisman? He's been 'on one' of late as we've seen with a string of absolutely sensational performances in MLS with Inter Miami. Indeed, one could say that the seven-time Balon d'Or winner is firing on all cylinders at the moment which can't be a good thing for Ecuador. None the less, football isn't played on paper, which is to say this one is going to be interesting. As always, stay with us as I'll be taking you right through what promises to be a great match.

Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. ET at Estadio Mas Monumental in Buenos Aires. So, don't miss it!

Paul Rudder