2026 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
Ecuador and future Chelsea star Kendry Páez second only to Diego Maradona in South America
Not even Lionel Messi could outdo Páez, who made his first appearance for La Tricolor in 2026 World Cup qualifying against Uruguay.
Ecuador’s teenage prodigy Kendry Páez made his debut for his country in Tuesday’s 2026 World Cup qualifier against Uruguay and came within just a matter of days of snatching a long-standing record away from Argentina legend Diego Maradona.
The attacking midfielder started from the off at the age of only 16 years and 131 days, playing for 70 minutes of La Tricolor’s 2-1 triumph, which came after a narrow loss to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in the opening round of qualifiers.
Messi beats Ecuador... but not Páez
Not even the serial record breaker than is the Inter Miami star, who had to wait until the age of 18 to make his first appearance for La Albiceleste, could match Páez’s achievement, although another Argentina number 10 did do just enough to pip him to the post.
Páez came within just 11 days of equalling Maradona’s record of being the youngest male player to ever feature for a South American national team. The former Napoli icon made his Argentina against Hungary in February 1977, although national team coach César Luis Menotti deemed him too young to play in the 1978 World Cup, which La Albiceleste won on home soil.
Both Páez and Maradona, however, were older than Lamine Yamal (63 days younger than the latter) when the Barcelona starlet made his debut for Spain earlier this month.
When will Páez move to Premier League club Chelsea?
Páez currently plays for Independiente del Valle in his homeland but in April agreed to sign for Premier League club Chelsea for a fee of around $21.5 million, most of which will be add-ons.
The teenager won’t be able to move to London until he has turned 18, however, which means he won’t officially join the Blues until the summer of 2025. Until then, Páez will stay at his current club, for whom he scored on his first-team debut back in February. At 15, he became the youngest-ever debutant in the Ecuadorian top division and – by consequence – the youngest goalscorer.