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Argentina 1-0 Ecuador: 5 talking points as La Albiceleste labour to unimpressive win | World Cup Qualifiers

Argentina secured three points in their first qualifying game courtesy of Lionel Messi's penalty
Argentina secured three points in their first qualifying game courtesy of Lionel Messi's penalty
Sachin Bhat

Argentina laboured to an unimpressive 1-0 win over Ecuador in their opening game of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

Lionel Messi was the difference-maker once again as the skipper's penalty was enough to secure all three points for the hosts.

Both teams played for the first time in almost a year, and that fact was evident as neither were able to carve out clear-cut chances while the match was marred by plenty of nasty challenges too.

It was not a great night for either side but the Albiceleste will be content to have gotten off to a winning start. Here are the major talking points from the match:

#1 Argentina skipper Lionel Messi saves the day (again)

Messi 's last four goals for Argentina have come from 12 yards
Messi 's last four goals for Argentina have come from 12 yards

In his first game for Argentina in almost a year, Lionel Messi was on target from the penalty spot to give the hosts the lead, which eventually proved to be the match-winner.

This wasn't the most vintage performance from the Barcelona ace but he nevertheless delivered when it mattered. He smashed his effort into the far post with aplomb and even though the goalkeeper dived the right way, the pace and power in the shot were simply too much for him to handle.

Messi's latest strike takes him to 71 international goals for the Albiceleste, and he now trails just six goals behind Brazil legend Pele for most goals by a South American player.

#2 Ecuador need to find their attacking rhythm

Ecuador didn't do much in the way of attacks
Ecuador didn't do much in the way of attacks

Ecuador's performance against Argentina made them look like they couldn't care less about the match.

La Tri showed no attacking intent whatsoever, making just two shots all night, neither of which were on target. Argentine goalkeeper Franco Armani barely had anything to do.

Ecuador had 41% of the possession but they didn't make a single meaningful pass or a carve out an opportunity. Even striker Enner Valencia was forced to drop deep to help out in the midfield, further crippling the attack.

Such a lack of firepower up front should concern manager Gustavo Alfaro, whose team have now scored just five times in the last 11 competitive games!

#3 Argentina's Lucas Ocampos misses a sitter

Ocampos missed a glorious chance to score for Argentina
Ocampos missed a glorious chance to score for Argentina

It might not have been the most eye-catching miss nor did it prove to be detrimental for Argentina but Lucas Ocampos' horrendous effort in the 48th minute is a major talking point from the game.

In what is only his fourth international cap, the Sevilla forward, who already has two goals for Argentina, was presented with a chance to double his side's cushion after receiving a headed knock-down by Messi, with no one marking him.

Yet, Ocampos contrived to blow it up, making a tame effort across the face of the goal, which Ecuador custodian Alexander Dominguez further palmed for a corner kick. For someone who's coming off the back of a stellar club campaign, the effort was shocking.

#4 Horrendous tackles marred the opening half

The match was filled with rash challenges and tackles
The match was filled with rash challenges and tackles

South American games are notorious for being dangerously physical, and it was further accentuated during this game's opening 45 minutes when nasty tackles, mostly from Ecuador's players, were flying in left, right and centre.

The first horrible challenge came from Pervis Estupinan, who hacked down Ocampos near the byline to concede the penalty, before Leandro Paredes returned the gesture with a dangerous sliding tackle on Renato Ibarra to earn himself a booking.

The game resembled less of a football match and more of a tackling match as it went forward, with Valencia also conceding fouls twice towards the end of the opening half.

The referee must also shoulder the blame for his lax decision-making, failing to punish players adequately. Even though both sides committed a staggering 33 fouls in total, he brandished just three yellow cards - a reflection of poor match officiating in CONMEBOL.

#5 Argentina have plenty of work to do

Despite the win, Argentina were below par for most of the match
Despite the win, Argentina were below par for most of the match

Besides the three points, Argentina have little else to celebrate as this was a below-par performance by all accounts. The three-pronged attack of Messi, Ocampos and Lautaro Martinez didn't click as the trio failed to carve out clear-cut chances.

This could be because the team is playing for the first time in 11 months, which is an unusually long time, while also missing players like Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Paolo Dybala and Giovani Lo Celso.

Given the largely experimental line-up, Argentina couldn't work cohesively and despite dominating possession, failed to make use of the ball efficiently. Messi, as always, was left to do everything.

He tried to bring in Martinez and Ocampos with link-up play and even dropped back into the midfield to connect with Montiel on the right. However, if Argentina are to comfortably go through the qualifiers, they need to come together as a unit.

Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh

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