Lionel Messi did it again: The Argentina star scored a free-kick goal against Ecuador in a World Cup qualifying match Thursday, lifting his country to a 1-0 win. Here’s what you need to know:
- Messi — who announced his arrival to Inter Miami with a stoppage-time free-kick winner in his July 21 debut — scored in the 78th minute against Ecuador. He has 65 career free-kick goals.
- The goal was Messi’s 29th in World Cup qualifiers, tying him with Luis Suarez as the top scorer in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying history.
- Argentina, the defending men’s World Cup champion, next plays Bolivia on Sept. 12.
🤩 Con el sello de la casa, Messi de tiro libre la puso en el ángulo y llega a 104 goles con la albiceleste en 176 partidos.
🇦🇷 Argentina 1-0 Ecuador 🇪🇨
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) September 8, 2023
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
How Argentina pulled off the win
As expected, Ecuador’s 5-3-2 formation was difficult to break down. Argentina finished with 71 percent of the possession, but the world champions’ attacks were consistently stifled by the visitors. The match became cagey and physical in the second half as Ecuador stood firm in its low block. Messi had very little space to operate throughout the match. He was hounded by up to three Ecuadorian players at a time, and up until his winner, was virtually ineffective on the night.
“We know these are difficult matches,” Messi said after the game. “Ecuador have very good players, they know what they’re doing and they’re very solid physically.”
But as often happens when Messi plays, he only needs one moment to make the difference. In this case, it was a back-breaking goal that gutted a stingy Ecuador side. Messi is surgical from set pieces and this one occurred in the most ideal of locations for him. Ecuador’s five-man wall jumped in unison to no avail.
Messi curled over the wall and tucked the ball into the net to Ecuadorian goalkeeper Hernán Galíndez’s right. It appeared that Galíndez was expecting Messi to aim for the opposite corner. He was late to react and was left standing helplessly as Messi sprinted away in celebration. It was Messi’s 29th goal in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying matches, tying his good friend Suarez.
“It’s an honor for both of us to be up there because of what the qualifiers mean to us, to South American football,” Messi said.
Argentina’s next match is away in Bolivia. Ecuador hosts Uruguay the same day and will be desperate for a victory. Ecuador began World Cup qualifying with a three-point deduction following FIFA’s ruling last year that defender Byron Castillo had falsified his passport in order to represent the country. — Cardenas
Messi, 36, has 11 goals and five assists in 11 games with Inter Miami.
The September international window is the first since the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner started his MLS career and exponentially increased the global spotlight on the league. He was among three MLS players called into Argentina camp for this month’s qualifiers.
Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said last month the team will be without Messi for “at least” three games this season while he plays for the national team.
(Photo: Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images)