2026 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
When will Inter Miami star Lionel Messi play for Argentina in the FIFA international break?
Albiceleste captain Messi will once again lead his country as South American qualifying for the 2026 World Cup gets underway.
To say that Lionel Messi has lit up soccer in the United States since his move to Inter Miami would be something of an understatement. Since making his debut against Liga MX side Cruz Azul on 21 July, The Herons have won the Leagues Cup, reached the final of the US Open Cup and finally moved off the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference and overall standings. On Saturday, however, they will have to make do without the former Barcelona playmaker, who is away on international duty with Argentina.
How many Inter Miami matches will Messi miss?
The Florida club’s transformation since Messi arrived at the club has been nothing short of incredible. A team that hadn’t won in 11 MLS matches has suddenly gone on a run of 11 games without defeat in all competitions, in which the 36-year-old has scored 11 goals and provided a further five assists. How will Inter Miami cope when Gerardo “Tata” Martino isn’t be able to call upon him for the game against Sporting Kansas City at DRV PNK Stadium on 9 September? Messi is expected to return for the following MLS clash at Atlanta United seven days later.
How many matches will Argentina play and against who?
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is currently back in his homeland, where he is, of course, a national hero after leading Argentina to their first FIFA World Cup victory since 1986. The 2022 winners begin their qualification campaign for the 2026 tournament - to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada - this week, with CONMEBOL (the South American section) the first confederation to get underway.
La Albiceleste will play two matches in the international break, kicking off at home to Ecuador at River Plate Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. That matchday one fixture will be played on Thursday 7 September, with kick-off at 8:00 p.m.
Messi and co will then travel north to face Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz on Tuesday 12 September (kick-off at 4:00 p.m ET).
How does 2026 World Cup qualification work in South America?
CONMEBOL qualification begins on Thursday 7 September and runs all the way through to September 2025. Over the course of the next two years, the 10 South American nations will play a total of 18 matches, facing each of the other nine home and away. The 18 fixtures will be played across nine double headers during pre-established FIFA windows.
Qualification is fairly simple, with teams picking up three points for a victory and one for a draw, and ranked in a 10-team league. For the expanded 2026 World Cup, which will have 48 teams for the first time, the top six South American teams will qualify, with the seventh-placed team taking part in an inter-confederation playoff against countries from either AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean) or OFC (Oceania).