Lionel Messi once again displayed his magical football prowess as he secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory for Argentina against Ecuador in Thursday night’s 2026 World Cup qualifier. The South American nations clashed in Buenos Aires, and it was the 2023 Ballon d’Or favorite who proved to be the difference.
In outstanding form for Inter Miami in recent weeks, Messi had the opportunity to secure all three points for his country with a stunning 78th-minute free-kick. Ecuador’s defense set up a formidable five-man wall and stationed a sixth man behind to block a low strike from the maestro himself. Despite the daunting challenge, Messi managed to find the back of the net with a perfectly curled shot that left the Ecuadorian goalkeeper, Hernan Galindez, with no chance.
This goal was another testament to Messi’s extraordinary footballing talent and his renewed passion for the game since his move to Inter Miami this summer. The 36-year-old continued to shine until the 89th minute when he was substituted for Exequiel Palacios.
Putting to rest any injury concerns, Messi reassured reporters, stating, “I came out because I was a bit tired. It’s probably not the last time that will happen [coming out during the last minutes of the game]. It’s all good, I’m fine.”
Remarkably, Messi played nearly the full 90 minutes, considering his recent heavy workload. Since joining Inter Miami in July, the Barcelona legend has participated in 11 matches for his new American club. Astonishingly, three of these games went to penalties, all of which Messi’s team won. Under his influence, Inter Miami transformed from struggling to unbeaten in 11 matches, winning one trophy and reaching another cup final. During this impressive run, Messi contributed 11 goals and five assists to his team.
Nevertheless, Messi’s decision to request an earlier substitution in the Ecuador game raised concerns about his physical condition. Argentina’s head coach, Lionel Scaloni, commented in his post-match press conference, saying, “Messi asked for a substitution, otherwise I wouldn’t take him off. Later we will evaluate what he has.”
This World Cup qualifier was the first of the 2026 campaign, and Argentina currently shares the top spot in the CONMEBOL section with Colombia after winning their opening match. The question of whether Messi will participate in the 2026 World Cup remains uncertain at this stage. Initially, the 2022 World Cup was expected to be his last. However, as long as Messi continues to relish representing his country, there’s a strong likelihood that he will help defend Argentina’s World Cup title, even at the age of 39. His latest free-kick exemplifies that his extraordinary talent remains as permanent as ever.
To witness this legendary free-kick, you can watch the video here. Be sure to check out both angles to fully appreciate the brilliance of Messi’s performance.
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