The Argentine National Team begins its World Cup title defense on Thursday when Lionel Messi and La Seleccion square off with Ecuador at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium. The match is the first in a series of South American qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup in Mexico, the United States, and Canada and the first leg of a double header with Bolivia. Argentina will face La Verde in La Paz on Tuesday.
This World Cup cycle will feature a new 48-team format in which Conmebol teams compete for one of six spots in the tournament as well as a spot in the inter-confederation playoffs.
With Lionel Scaloni at the helm, the Albiceleste looks to add to its 21-game unbeaten streak in South American qualifiers. Argentina has managed 12 wins and 9 draws since losing 2-0 to Bolivia in March 2017.
The World Cup champions have retained much of the squad that lifted the trophy in Qatar, and Scaloni is expected to name an 11 that’s very similar to the group that faced France in the finals, although Télam suggests that Nicolás Gonzalez could start in place of Ángel di Maria. Ballon d’Or nominated strikers Julián Álvarez and Lautaro Martínez will complement Messi up front.
The Argentine captain currently ranks second on the South American qualifier scoring list with 28 goals, just one behind his former teammate and friend Luis Suárez of Urugay, whose days with the La Celeste may be numbered.
Of the newcomers to the national team, Manchester United’s young star, Alejandro Garnacho, is perhaps the most important. Garnacho was born in Spain but is representing La Seleccion through his mother, an Argentine native. According to FIFA regulations, he can cement his status as an Argentine national by playing in three games.
As has been the case since the 2021 Copa America, tickets to the match are completely sold out, despite the Estadio Monumental’s capacity of nearly 86,000.
For their part, Ecuador is set to start a new era under Félix Sánchez Bas of Spain after a decent showing in Qatar. But the Tri will have their work cut out for them after being sanctioned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for including midfielder Byron Castillo in the 2022 qualifiers.
CAS deemed that while Castillo was eligible to play for Ecuador as an Ecuadorian citizen, he was born in Tumaco, Colombia, meaning the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) submitted paperwork containing false information. The CAS fined El Tri and deducted three points from its qualifying point total.
The match is set to start at 9:00 p.m. Argentina time, with Colombia’s Wilmar Roldán refereeing. It can be watched live through Argentina’s national public broadcaster, TV Pública, for free or through the cable sports channel TyC Sports.