Julian Alvarez’s first-half goal was all that separated Argentina from Ecuador at home until a stoppage time penalty secured a 1-1 draw.
With both teams having already secured their Qatar World Cup tickets, this game was more about national pride, and it was obvious that neither team was going to take it easy as a number of the biggest stars were included in the starting lineups, including Lionel. Messi.
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, Ecuador defended with fiery passion, which was rewarded in the 93rd minute.
Enner Valencia brought home a rebound after seeing a penalty awarded by VAR saved, nullifying Alvarez’s opener in the 24th minute.
Ecuador came close to achieving a dream start in front of their home fans, with Robert Arboleda’s fifth-minute set-piece header knocked down by Geronimo Rulli, who then sent Alan Franco away.
The Argentine had over 60 per cent possession in the first half and, after their dominance was dampened by sloppy errors early on, the pressure paid off when Alvarez broke the deadlock.
Alvarez’s goal came after a cross from the left wing found him at the penalty spot, and although his first shot was blocked by a defender in full swing, he hid the rebound cleanly, strong and low on the goalkeeper in the bottom left corner. .
Angel Mena fired wide from the edge of the box at the end of a raging run and it looked like Argentina, who came close from a Messi free-kick, would walk away victorious until a header on target hits Lucas Martinez on the arm, with VAR awarding a penalty.
Valencia’s first attempt was saved by Rulli, but the rebound fell fortuitously to his feet for him to tap into the equaliser.
What does it mean?
Both teams qualified for the World Cup, but Argentina managed to avoid defeat again, meaning they are now 31 games unbeaten, a streak dating back to the Copa semi-finals America 2019.
Immobile Otamendi controls the show
Argentina centre-back Nicolas Otamendi was almost perfect in gathering his defensive unit and didn’t foul for the goal.
Otamendi has won four of his five aerial duels – two more than any other teammate – and has won six of his eight duels overall.
Speedy Gonzalez runs straight to the bench
Nicolas Gonzalez started on the left wing for Argentina but was largely ineffectual before being substituted in the 78th minute.
Gonzalez wasn’t credited with any created chances and had just 44% passing accuracy in the final third.
Argentina will face reigning European champions Italy on June 1. Ecuador can start thinking about preparations for their first World Cup final appearance since 2014.