Argentina vs Ecuador live score, result, updates, highlights as Lionel Messi starts 2026 World Cup qualifying

Lionel Messi hopes to bring his blistering MLS form to national team duty as defending FIFA champions Argentina begin 2026 World Cup qualifying with a home opener against Ecuador.

The 2022 World Cup MVP has been electric with Inter Miami, scoring 11 goals and assisting five more through his first 11 games in the United States. This hot start comes on the heels of Messi’s heroics in Qatar last year, where he scored in every single game but one en route to their penalty shootout win over France in the World Cup final.

In fact, Messi is on a sensational scoring streak for Argentina, having bagged a goal in seven straight international matches. Expanding that further, he has scored in 13 of his last 14 games, with 22 goals in that span, and only Poland in the World Cup group stage finale keeping Messi off the scoresheet.

Tonight’s opponents Ecuador are starting 2026 qualifying round robin with a deficit, deducted three points in the aftermath of the Byron Castillo scandal in which the Pachuca defender was found to have falsified documents and misled authorities with regards to his international eligibility.

The Sporting News is following the Argentina vs Ecuador match live, providing score updates, commentary and highlights as they happen.

MORE: How many goals has Lionel Messi scored for Inter Miami this season?

Argentina vs Ecuador live score

  Score (1H) Goal scorers
Argentina 0
Ecuador 0

Starting lineups:

Argentina (4-3-3, right to left): 23. E. Martinez (GK) — 21. Molina, 13. Romero, 19. Otamendi, 3. Tagliafico — 7. De Paul, 8. E. Fernandez, 20. Mac Allister — 10. Messi, 22. La. Martinez, 15. N. Gonzalez.

Ecuador (3-5-2, right to left): 1. Galindez (GK) — 4. Arboleda, 2. F. Torres, 6. Pacho — 3. Hurtado, 5. Cifuentes, 8. Gruezo, 23. Caicedo, 7. Estupinan — 10. Plata, 13. Valencia.

Argentina vs Ecuador live updates, highlights, commentary

Argentina vs Ecuador: First Half

16th min: Chance, Argentina! Lionel Messi puts one wide right! Alexis Mac Allister dribbles into the left side of the penalty area, and he cuts back for Messi trailing the play at the top of the penalty area, but the first-time hit misses the target!

12th min: Chance, Argentina! Lionel Messi is the one to serve the free-kick into the penalty area, and he puts it right on a platter in front of net, but Lautaro Martinez at full stretch can’t get contact on the delivery, and it ends up harmlessly into the arms of Hernan Galindez! He had to put that on goal! A disappointing result to cap Argentina’s the first opportunity on goal!

10th min: Moises Caicedo bundles over Lionel Messi in midfield. It gives Argentina a set-piece about 45 yards from goal. It’s too deep for a shot on net, even for the illustrious Messi, so we’ll see who is picked to deliver a ball from deep.

Caicedo needs treatment in the aftermath of the foul, and limps off the pitch, but gives his teammates a thumbs up before returning to play.

5th min: Ecuador are doing their best to force Argentina out wide, and so far it’s working. The hosts are hemmed in centrally every time they move forward, and instead have to filter the ball out to the flanks. Nico Gonzalez is the most heavily targeted in the early stages, with Nahuel Molina overlapping as Lionel Messi pinches.

This is clearly intended to neutralize Messi and force other players to beat Ecuador. We’ll see how effective it is over the course of the 90 minutes.

3rd min: Lionel Messi delights the crowd as he dribbles diagonally towards the top of the penalty area, but after feeding Nicolas Tagliafico down the left, Argentina are turned away.

Seconds later the hosts recycle possession down the other flank, but a lateral cross in front of goal is cleared just before reaching Alexis Mac Allister.

Kickoff: Lionel Messi and Argentina have officially begun qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup! Thanks to the expanded field for the World Cup, and by proxy CONMEBOL qualifying, the defending champions are essentially assured to secure a spot.

It takes 20 seconds for Ecuador to be called for offside, as Gonzalo Plata is caught straight from kickoff.

Argentina vs Ecuador: Pre-match commentary, analysis, stats, and more

15 mins to kick: Lionel Messi leads the Argentina squad out for warmups as this match gets close to kicking off! Estadio Monumental made their appreciation for the defending World Cup champions known.

30 mins to kick: With 79 caps, Enner Valencia is a consistent presence up front for Ecuador, but of his 40 international goals, the most in Ecuador history, none have come against Argentina in six appearances. He’s also never beaten Argentina.

Valencia just scored at this very stadium recently for his club Internacional against River Plate in the Copa Libertadores. Could there be an upset today? If so, the 33-year-old will have to play a big role.

45 mins to kick: One really interesting battle in this match will be between Chelsea teammates Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo in midfield. Two players who are already battling for playing time at the club level, and now will see each other on opposite sides tonight.

“Moises is a great person,” Enzo said in the lead-up to this match. “We have talked a little about everything, not specifically about this game, but about swapping shirts after.”

1 hour to kickoff: The Argentina lineup that was reported earlier indeed is officially deployed by Lionel Scaloni, with Lisandro Martinez left out due to injury and Nico Gonzalez in on the left wing.

For Ecuador, it’s Al Sadd youngster Gonzalo Plata who takes the spot up front next to Enner Valencia, with Kevin Rordiguez, Jhojan Julio, and Angel Mena all passed over. Interestingly, there’s also a change in goalkeeper as the experienced Alexander Dominguez is replaced by Hernan Galindez.

1 hour 15 mins to kick: Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has urged his team to recall the World Cup victory fondly, but to move on as well, urging his squad to remember that “what’s past is past.”

1 hour 30 mins to kick: Reports are already starting to filter in regarding Argentina’s starting lineup for their first qualifying match of the 2026 World Cup cycle.

According to Leandro Aguilera of the well-connected TyC Sports, Angel Di Maria has been dropped from the XI, replaced by the in-form Lautaro Martinez up front in a 4-3-3. Lionel Messi starts on one touchline, while Nico Gonzalez is on the other, which is harsh on Manchester United winger Alejandro Garnacho.

Another Man United player has been passed over by Lionel Scaloni as well, as Lisandro Martinez reportedly doesn’t even make the bench, with “The Butcher” apparently struggling with a slight foot injury.

1 hour 45 mins to kick: Fans are already starting to arrive at Estadio Monumental as Argentina’s World Cup triumph still hangs in the memory for supporters in Buenos Aires!

2 hours to kickoff: Lionel Messi will be glad to look across the pitch and not see Inter Miami teammate Leonardo Campana on the other side, as Ecuador head coach Felix Sanchez chose not to call in the 23-year-old striker. Campana, like many of his club teammates, has seen a serious uptick in form since Messi arrived in South Florida, scoring off the bench last time out as Inter Miami beat defending MLS champions LAFC on the road.

Sanchez was heavily criticized for this absence, as former Ecuador head coach Jorge Celico called it an “unintelligible” decision. “Leo Campana is a spectacular boy,” Celico said of the Inter Miami man. “He is not arrogant, he is not pushy. He is a boy who, when we went shopping with the national team, did not buy anything.”

Argentina vs Ecuador lineups & team news

This international window was thought to finally be the long-anticipated transition from Angel Di Maria to Alejandro Garnacho on the left wing. Garnacho has been electric for Manchester United and earned increased playing time, and while an ankle injury scuppered his chance at earning a spot at the 2022 World Cup, he is now thought to be the heir apparent to Di Maria’s spot out wide.

That will have to wait, however, as Nico Gonzalez is the one to play out wide left instead of Garnacho. Lionel Scaloni has deployed Lautaro Martinez up front, rewarding his exceptional start to the Inter Milan season, while Julian Alvarez begins on the bench.

While Marcos Acuna has been the regular starter at left-back for some time now, he was not called into the squad as he sees his playing time decrease at his club Sevilla. Nicolas Tagliafico is the one to replace him, with uncapped Lucas Esquivel serving as backup.

Argentina starting lineup (4-3-3): E. Martinez (GK) — Molina, Romero, L. Martinez, Tagliafico — De Paul, E. Fernandez, Mac Allister — Messi, L. Martinez, Garnacho.

Argentina subs (12): Armani (GK), Benitez (GK), Medina, Pezzella, Montiel, Paredes, Palacios, G. Rodriguez, Di Maria, Correa, Garnacho, Alvarez.

The most prominent player for La Tri is undoubtedly Moises Caicedo who just completed a huge transfer to Premier League side Chelsea after rising to prominence at Brighton. The 21-year-old smashed the British transfer record, and has 32 international caps to his name despite his young age.

Ecuador head coach Felix Sanchez will have captain Enner Valencia leading the line for La Tri yet again, but selecting his strike partner will present a dilemma. Sanchez made the controversial decision not to call in Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami teammate Leonardo Campana, which has been heavily criticized. Instead, he will have to play alongside Gonzalo Plata, with both Kevin Rodriguez and Jhojan Julio passed over.

Another surprise exclusion was 21-year-old defender Piero Hincapie, as he has yet to debut for Bayer Leverkusen this season. Fellow center-back Xavier Arreaga was also not called in, having only just returned from a hamstring injury with the Seattle Sounders.

Ecuador starting lineup (3-5-2): Galindez (GK) — Arboleda, F. Torres, Pacho — Hurtado, Caicedo, Gruezo, Cifuentes, Estupinan — Plata, Valencia.

Ecuador subs (12): (Lineups released one hour prior to kickoff)

How to watch Argentina vs Ecuador

Following a late agreement, broadcast rights for Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers in the United States have been secured by Telemundo and Univision. That means viewers in the USA should be able to stream this match via ViX, TelevisaUnivision’s Spanish-language service.

It will also now be broadcast on TV in Spanish language via Telemundo in the United States. Fubo subscribers can also access that channel.

The match is not set to be available globally to regions including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

MORE: Watch Premier League matches live with Fubo in USA

Argentina vs Ecuador betting odds & lines

While Argentina are clearly the “better” side, it’s not in the defending champions’ DNA to blow teams apart, especially in the physical South American confederation.

Indeed, through the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, Argentina won 11 of their 17 matches, but just five of those victories came by a multiple goal margin of victory. Ecuador were not amongst that small group, bookending Argentina’s qualifying slate with a narrow 1-0 defeat and a 1-1 draw.

Despite the form Lionel Messi is in, and the positive play for others in the Argentina squad, don’t expect to see this match get out of hand.

Draw Ecuador
Both teams
to score Y / N
Over / Under
2.5 goals
-275 +400 +800 +120 / -175 -130 / -110 +100 -135

-305 +351 +682 +109 / -172 -128 / -109 +102 -135
1.37 4.80 9.50 2.23 / 1.61 1.88 / 1.92

1.38 5.20 9.00 2.23 / 1.66 1.84 / 1.98 2.11 1.74

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