Sports

Di Maria scores, Messi returns in Argentina’s Copa America warmup victory over Ecuador

CHICAGO — (AP) — Angel Di Maria scored as Lionel Messi returned to the international stage for the first time in six months, helping Argentina to a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in a Copa America warmup match on Sunday night.

Messi was sidelined for the first half before replacing Di Maria in the 56th minute. A right hamstring injury kept the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner and Inter Miami star from participating in Argentina's previous two Copa America warmup matches against El Salvador and Costa Rica in March.

“Sometimes there is no need to risk it, not only with Leo. It is about taking care of them so that they arrive in optimal conditions,” Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said of his decision to sit Messi for the first half.

With Messi watching from the bench, Di Maria sent a reverse pass from Christian Romero into the net to open the scoring in the 40th minute.

“It helps to play against a rival like that, especially because Ecuador plays at a high level, they make it difficult for anyone,” Scaloni said. “And we needed to get together, compete, add minutes and feel the sensation of putting on the shirt before a Cup that is going to be difficult.”

It was Di Maria's second consecutive goal in an international match. He also scored against Costa Rica on March 26. With the 31st goal of his Argentina career, the 36-year-old midfielder is tied with Gonzalo Higuain for the fifth-most goals in the country’s history and sits just four scores behind Diego Maradona at No. 4 on the leaderboard.

Argentina — the reigning World Cup and Copa America champion — hasn’t fallen in its last seven meetings with Ecuador, a streak dating back to 2019.

“The goal is to continue competing, and these guys have competing in their blood,” Scaloni said. “Sometimes it turns out well and other times it doesn’t turn out well. But you have to keep playing. There are always things to play for. Now the Copa América, then the qualifiers. ... Our goal is always to compete at our best.”

UP NEXT

Argentina: Lionel Scaloni’s squad will wrap up its pre-Copa America slate in Washington D.C. on Friday with a warmup match against Guatemala before opening its group stage of the tournament against Canada on June 20.

Ecuador: A pair of international friendly matches remain against Bolivia on Wednesday and Honduras on June 16 before opening the Copa America schedule against Venezuela on June 22.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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