World Champions Argentina are set to kick off their campaign to defend their World Cup crown with a home qualifier against Ecuador on Thursday night.
Ecuador, who also secured a spot in the finals in Qatar, are optimistic about their chances of qualifying for yet another tournament. This optimism stems from the fact that CONMEBOL now has six automatic qualification places, along with an additional playoff spot.
For Argentina, this match marks their first competitive game since the World Cup final, where they were narrowly defeated by Saudi Arabia, ending a remarkable 36-game unbeaten streak. However, Argentina has since bounced back with ten consecutive victories, including six World Cup matches and four friendly encounters.
Under the guidance of coach Lionel Scaloni, Argentina has maintained continuity with the majority of the squad that featured in Qatar. This stability should bode well for La Albiceleste.
In recent friendlies, Argentina displayed their dominance, securing victories over Panama, Curacao, Australia, and Indonesia without conceding a single goal, tallying 13 goals in total. Nevertheless, their upcoming match against Ecuador promises to be a tougher challenge.
With the World Cup now expanded, Argentina’s qualification path should be more comfortable in comparison to their close call in 2018, when they secured their place on the final day as one of the continent’s lowest scorers.
Looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup, it remains uncertain whether Lionel Messi will participate in his sixth World Cup finals, but he is currently in the squad and has showcased sensational form during his time at Inter Miami over the summer.
Ecuador, despite not being considered one of the continent’s elite footballing nations, has navigated South American qualification impressively, earning a spot in four of the last six World Cups. Their first appearance in the finals was in South Korea and Japan in 2002, with only 2010 and 2018 as exceptions when they failed to qualify.
However, their performance in major tournaments often falters, with three of their four World Cup finals ending in group-stage eliminations. Their record at the Copa America is even less impressive, with seven group-stage exits in nine finals since 1999.
Out of the 30 matches they’ve played in the competition since 1999, Ecuador has managed to win just three times, and in 2021, they reached the quarter-finals without securing a single victory in the group stage.
As they prepare to face the World Champions, Ecuador will be keen on addressing their tournament performance woes and making a statement in the World Cup qualifiers.