- Lionel Messi (78')
Lionel Messi's second-half goal gave Argentina a 1-0 home win over Ecuador on Thursday to get their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign off on the right foot in front of 83,000 fans at the nearly full Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.
World champions Argentina were dominant in possession, but frustrated in attack as they struggled to make the breakthrough.
Captain Messi, however, continued the fine form he is showing with club side Inter Miami of MLS by scoring from a free kick in the 77th minute.
"We played against a great team, with good players and physically strong," Messi told reporters. "Everyone always wants to beat Argentina and even more so now that we are the world champions. 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."
The result continues an impressive run for Lionel Scaloni's Argentina side and his talisman Messi, who has now scored in his past eight matches played for Argentina and is tied with Luis Suarez on 29 for the most all time in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
"It's a pleasure for me that we are both there," said Messi, who has 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 also extended their unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifying to 22 games, with their last loss coming against Bolivia in 2017, the team they face on Tuesday in their next qualifier.
The South American federation plays an 18-game qualifying schedule, with six of 10 teams earning bids to the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026 -- hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
- Wilmer Roldán