It doesn’t matter where Lionel Messi plays in the world.
He still finds a way to shine as football’s biggest star.
Messi scored a free kick in the 78th minute to lead Argentina to a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in a 2026 World Cup qualifier on Thursday night.
Messi – playing his first match for Argentina since 2022 World Cup Final – scored in patented fashion, his left boot finding the left side of the net and leaving Ecuador goalkeeper Hernan Galindez curled up on one knee after the score.
Messi celebrated with his arms spread and a run towards his Argentina teammates, who mobbed him as fans at the Estadio Más Monumental celebrated despite the cold temperatures in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It’s a goal Messi scored many times during his brief career with MLS side Inter Miami, and countless other times with Argentina during his illustrious career.
Messi – a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner – left the field before the 89th minute, around 10 minutes after his goal, as the crowd applauded his exit after he delivered again.
Here’s the highlight of Argentina’s 1-0 win over Ecuador:
Argentina should reach the World Cup again.
Argentina have three points in Conmebol qualifying, following their victory against Ecuador. Ecuador ends the match with minus three points.
Due to the extension of the World Cup to 2026, six South American teams will qualify directly for the World Cup. A seventh team will participate in the FIFA knockout tournament.
The 2026 World Cup will be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada and will expand to a 48-team format.
Messi will be with the Argentina national team for two World Cup qualifiers this month.
After the match against Ecuador, Messi will stay with Argentina for their second qualifying match against Bolivia on September 12 at the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, Bolivia.
Messi will miss Inter Miami’s Saturday game against Sporting Kansas City at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
Messi’s participation in Argentina’s two matches could impact his availability for Inter Miami’s match against Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 16.
It is unclear whether Messi, 36, will play for Argentina in the 2024 Copa America and 2026 World Cup or whether he will withdraw from national team competition before then.
“Even I don’t know when. It will happen when it happens. Messi said when asked about his retirement in an interview aired on Argentine television in July. “After winning everything, I want to enjoy the moment and wait for time to tell me when it’s time.
“Logically, given my age, one would expect it to be soon, but I’m not sure.”
With Messi’s World Cup final expected to be his last World Cup match, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni could leave a spot open for the country’s biggest star.
“I think Messi can get to the next World Cup” Scaloni said in January on Spanish radio Calvia FM. “It will depend a lot on what he wants, if he feels good. The door will always be open. He is happy on the pitch and that would be very good for us.
Messi’s World Cup win with Argentina
Messi was spectacular, scoring two goals and his penalty, to help Argentina beat France 3-3 (4-2 from the penalty spot) in the final. 2022 World Cup Final last December.
In perhaps the greatest World Cup final, Messi managed to help Argentina survive French star Kylian Mbappe’s hat-trick to become world champions.
Messi received the Ballon d’Or, awarded to the best player of the tournament.
After winning the World Cup, Messi helped Paris Saint-Germain win back-to-back French Ligue 1 titles, but the club was eliminated in the Champions League round of 16 in March.
Messi’s last game with PSG was in June and he decided to join David Beckham’s MLS club Inter Miami at the end of July.
“I chose to come here. I wanted to come here. And it’s a decision we made over time. It’s not something we decided overnight. We are where we want to be. It’s a decision we made. It makes everything much easier and simpler,” Messi said at an Inter Miami press conference on August 17.
“When I went to Paris, it wasn’t something I wanted. I didn’t want to leave Barcelona. In a way, it was overnight. I had to adapt to a completely different place than where I had lived my whole life. But it’s totally different from my experience here.
Messi’s global stardom has been on full display, scoring 11 goals in his first 11 games for Inter Miami.
Messi scored in eight games and had two assists in two other victories. Inter Miami is 10-1-0 (win-draw-loss) with Messi since the end of July.
Messi helped Inter Miami win the Leagues Cup title on August 19, and the club will play Houston Dynamo in the US Open Cup final on September 27.
But in the race for the MLS playoffs, Inter Miami are on the riseeight points behind ninth-place DC United in the Eastern Conference.