In a thrilling World Cup qualifying match, Lionel Messi's second-half strike propelled Argentina to a 1-0 triumph over Ecuador. 

The world champions kick-started their journey towards the 2026 finals on a positive note.

Despite dominating possession, Argentina faced frustrations in their offensive efforts, struggling to break through in front of a lively Buenos Aires crowd.

Once again, it was Lionel Messi who emerged as the savior, showcasing the stellar form he's displayed with Inter Miami by netting a free kick in the 77th minute.

Reflecting on the win, the 36-year-old Messi noted, "Everyone always wants to beat Argentina, and even more so now that we are the world champions.

We can't relax; we have to build upon our performance. Our goal is to secure qualification for the World Cup once more.

We cherished our previous victory, but we must focus on the future.

Messi's goal also drew him level with his former Barcelona teammate Luis Suárez as the all-time top scorer in South American qualifying competitions, both boasting 29 goals.

"It's a pleasure for me that we are both there," Messi expressed, now boasting a remarkable tally of 104 international goals.

 "Considering the significance of these qualifiers in South American football, it's a truly special achievement for both of us."

Argentina's next challenge awaits them in Bolivia on Tuesday as they continue their quest for World Cup qualification.