Ángel Di María found the net as Lionel Messi returned to the international scene after a six-month hiatus, guiding Argentina to a 1-0 triumph over Ecuador in a Copa América warm-up clash on Sunday evening.

Messi began the match on the bench, stepping in for Di María in the 56th minute. A hamstring injury had sidelined the Inter Miami ace from Argentina’s previous Copa América warm-up fixtures against El Salvador and Costa Rica in March.

“Sometimes, it’s not worth the risk, not just with Leo. It’s about safeguarding them to ensure they’re in prime condition,” explained Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni regarding his decision to rest Messi for the first half.

“Facing a formidable opponent like Ecuador is beneficial, particularly because of their high level of play, which poses challenges for any team,” Scaloni added. “It was crucial for us to come together, compete, accumulate playing time, and experience the sensation of wearing the jersey before a challenging tournament.”

This goal marked Di María’s second consecutive international goal, following his strike against Costa Rica on March 26th. With his 31st goal for Argentina, the 36-year-old midfielder now shares the fifth spot for most goals in the country’s history with Gonzalo Higuaín, trailing Diego Maradona by only four goals for the fourth position.

Argentina, the reigning World Cup and Copa América champions, have not tasted defeat in their last seven encounters with Ecuador, a streak stretching back to 2019.

“Our objective is to maintain our competitive edge, and these players have competition ingrained in them,” Scaloni affirmed. “Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we must keep playing. There’s always something at stake. Now it’s the Copa América, then the qualifiers. Our aim is always to compete at the highest level.”