Angel Di Maria, at 36, scores match-winning goal on Lionel Messi’s return for Argentina ahead of Copa America

Angel Di Maria came to Argentina's rescue against Ecuador in their first game since March ahead of the Copa America.

Angel Di Maria, at 36, scores match-winning goal on Lionel Messi’s return for Argentina ahead of Copa America

Angel Di Maria scored the only goal for Argentina in a gritty encounter vs Ecuador (Via IMAGO)

If there’s one player who’s as adored and respected in the Argentine national team as Lionel Messi, it’s his long-time international teammate Angel Di Maria. The winger has been part of La Albiceleste since 2008, making appearances for them at multiple World Cups and Copa America tournaments. As he enters the twilight years of his career, the 36-year-old showed just what he brings to the table for Lionel Scaloni‘s team.

Argentina took on Ecuador in their first game since March. The defending World Cup and Copa America champions came back with a win in the early hours of Monday as a solitary goal from Di Maria did the job for the hosts. The No.11 captained the side in the absence of Lionel Messi and came through with the captain’s goal in the 40th minute.

The winger finished off a move which saw Cristian Romero combine with the forward at the edge of the box. The defender laid the ball off to the forward, who took a few steps to compose himself before gently poking the ball past the goalkeeper.

As stated by Scaloni earlier in a press conference, Messi only played the second half of the game, after replacing the goal scorer in the 56th minute.

Lionel Scaloni insists there was no need to ‘risk’ Lionel Messi vs Ecuador

With the Copa America tournament just round the corner, manager Lionel Scaloni has two crucial decisions to make – one, to finalize a winning team the tournament and second, to minimize injuries and risk to players. With a significant proportion of the Argentine starting XI over the age of 35, Scaloni has to prioritize fitness over minutes and form over age.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi replaced Di Maria in the second half against Ecuador (Via IMAGO)

In a recent press conference, Scaloni explained why he did not start Messi and took off Di Maria despite his goal.

There are times when there is no need to take risks, and not just with Messi. The idea is to take care of everyone a little and make sure they arrive in optimal conditions.
Lionel Scaloni said in a press conference

Besides Messi, Scaloni also pointed to the situation of Enzo Fernandez, Nicolas Otamendi and Nahuel Molina.

As for the game itself, the boss exclaimed that his team did well to get in control of and dominate the ball. However, he praised the opposition’s intensity of the match despite it being a friendly. Goal scorer Angel Di Maria praised Cristian Romero’s quick thinking and skillful feint in the build-up to the goal.

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