2026 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
What goalscoring record could Lionel Messi break in Argentina’s 2026 World Cup qualifier against Bolivia?
The Inter Miami superstar scored the only goal of the game in his country’s opening fixture against Ecuador in Buenos Aires.
Lionel Messi has made a sensational impact since joining Inter Miami in July, helping the Florida club win their first ever trophy (the 2023 Leagues Cup, reach the final of the US Open Cup and get off the bottom of the MLS’ Eastern Conference and overall standings. But the 36-year-old has played a lot of soccer since moving stateside and Argentina could be the ones to give him a break.
Why might Messi not start for Argentina against Bolivia?
The former Barcelona playmaker asked to be taken off before the end of Thursday’s World Cup qualifying win over Ecuador, in which he scored the only goal from a free-kick in Buenos Aires. Tests ruled out an injury, with his fitness struggles instead put down to muscle fatigue after playing 12 matches in the space of 48 days.
Messi has travelled to La Paz for Argentina’s second qualifier against Bolivia on Tuesday, although there is some suggestion he could be named amongst the substitutes by head coach Lionel Scaloni, particularly with La Albiceleste having plenty of margin for error as they look to secure a place in the finals in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Messi equalled Luis Suárez’s World Cup qualifying record against Ecuador
Regardless of whether Messi plays from the off or makes an appearance from the bench, he will no doubt be aware that he is on the brink of setting yet another record. His goal against Ecuador was his 29th in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification, equalling Luis Suárez’s all-time top tally for Uruguay. His next strike, inevitable as it seems, will therefore see him edge ahead of his former Barça teammate in standings. Now playing for Grêmio in Brazil, Suárez has featured for his country since the 2022 World Cup and seems unlikely to do so again due to his advancing years and ongoing knee issues.
Which player has scored the most goals in World Cup qualifying?
Only four players in history have ever scored more than 30 goals in World Cup qualifying. Barcelona frontman Robert Lewandowski has netted 30 times for Poland, five times fewer than legendary Iranian striker Ali Daei, who for many years held the record for most international goals scored by any male player. That was snatched away from his by ex-Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 36 of his 123 Portugal goals in World Cup qualifying.
But the man who holds the overall record is former Guatemala international forward Carlos Ruíz, who turned out for a number of different MLS clubs, as well as Puebla and Veracruz in Liga MX. He scored 39 times in qualification, but his goals were never enough to lead his country to their first ever World Cup.