Argentina's Lionel Messi, celebrates scoring his side's first goal against Ecuador during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026, at Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Lionel Messi’s latest free-kick golazo has challenged our understanding of mathematics

You’d think Lionel Messi would’ve exhausted every possible angle of writing over the past 20 years; describing his goals, skill and achievements have exhausted thesaurus worldwide. 

But that’s until Messi delivers another moment of jaw-dropping beauty that causes humble writers everywhere to rush to their laptops to pen their latest loving prose to the pint-sized genius.

As Argentina began the defence of their World Cup title with a tricky-looking qualifier against Ecuador, the 36-year-old defied those who’d predicted his retirement from the international game to bolster Lionel Scaloni’s XI.

But Ecuador did indeed prove to be stubborn opponents, tracking Argentinian attackers with the diligence of an MI5 agent and keeping the scoreline resolutely scoreless deep into the Buenos Aries night.

Messi had endured a quiet evening until a free-kick was awarded to Argentina in the 78th minute. Upon the referee’s whistle, the crowd inside the Monumental saw a switch flick in the head of their hero.

As Ecuador nervously assembled their defensive wall, including the ubiquitous ‘draft-excluder’ to preclude any cheekiness from the free-kick taker, Messi somehow conceived of a method of getting the ball up and down in the amount of space normally afforded to a battery-farm chicken.

Curling his effort over Ecuadorian opponents wearing springs on their boots, judging by the height of their leap, Messi saw his free-kick nestle in the right-hand corner of the goal.

Goalkeeper Hernan Galindez visibly crumpled as the ball sailed past him, like Ralph Wiggum having his heart broken on live television. But Messi can have that affect on gods, never mind mere mortals like Galindez and the rest of his Ecuador team-mates.

“It was shown in the two friendlies and today, by the points, that this group is not going to relax beyond what it achieved. It was historic, extraordinary,” captain Messi said postgame.

“We know that if we go down a little they will pass us over. There are going to be tough matches like this. Defeats, surely. We have to be as we are now, with our feet on the ground. Fight every game as we have been fighting since Scaloni started with All this”.

“We already knew it was going to be like this, especially because of the way the Qualifiers are. We knew that it is very difficult to win, that they are all very close matches.”

“Ecuador is a great team. They have been showing since the last Qualifiers that they have very good players, that they are physically strong, that they are clear about what they do, although they changed coaches and now they are trying something else. What they do, they do very Well, we know what we had to do to get it going.”

The 36-year-old then stressed the importance of acknowledging that “everybody wants to beat Argentina.”

“Now that we are world champions, even more. That’s why we can’t go down. We even have to go up a little more than we were doing. The demand in each game is maximum and, surely more and more.”

Head coach Lionel Scaloni added after the game that he’s consistently seen his side improve during his tenure and that he’s proud of the effort his side put in.

“When I started, I didn’t know that I was going to be there for five years, exactly. It seems like it was recently, there were difficult moments and, if you remember that, you realize that time has passed. You go improving with experience and matches.”

“I’m proud of the match that the boys played, it was incredible. It was played to the limit as a Qualifying match has to be played.”

The next World Cup, hosted primarily in the United States, still seems light years away. Few know if Messi, who’ll turn 39 during the finals, will turn up to defend the trophy won so gloriously in Qatar last year.

But, whether he’ll remain Argentina’s totem or not, you can be sure that Messi’s genius will cause football writers everywhere to thumb through their thesaurus until his retirement.

By Michael Lee

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