Argentina got their World Cup qualifying campaign off to the perfect start on Thursday when Lionel Messi's early penalty gave them a 1-0 win over Ecuador in a lacklustre match in Buenos Aires.
The Argentine FA piped fan noise around the empty Bombonera stadium and the chants of "Messi! Messi!" were vindicated as early as the 12th minute when he put Argentina ahead from the spot after Lucas Ocampos was fouled inside the penalty area.
Argentina had lost just one of their last eight World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and although they could not add to the scoreline they never looked in danger of losing in a scrappy game against limited opponents.
"It was important to start with a win because we know how difficult the qualifiers are and all the matches are going to be as hard as this one," Messi said.
With the South American qualifiers twice pushed back from the scheduled start in March, it was almost a year since either team had played a full international and Messi said that inaction contributed to the poor spectacle.
"We hoped the level of play would be different but it’s been almost a year since we played together, this was our first game back and the nervousness makes it complicated," the Barcelona striker said.
The three points, however, were more than welcome for a side that hasn't won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993.
The win, which extended Argentina's unbeaten run to eight games under coach Lionel Scaloni, was also positive given that seven of the starting line up had never played a World Cup qualifier previously.
Argentina's next game is on Tuesday against Bolivia in La Paz, while Ecuador return home to face Uruguay, who beat Chile 2-1 in their opener earlier on Thursday, the same day.
The top four teams in South America's 10-team group qualify automatically for Qatar 2022 and the fifth-placed side goes into an inter-regional play-off.
Belgium winning streak halted in draw with Ivory Coast
A late equaliser from the penalty spot earned Ivory Coast a 1-1 draw with a second-string Belgium side in a friendly on Thursday, ending a run of 12 successive victories for the top team in the world rankings.
Michy Batshuayi converted from close range to give Belgium a 53rd-minute lead but Franck Kessie equalised for the visitors from the spot with four minutes remaining.
The Belgians rested almost all their regulars ahead of Sunday’s Nations League clash against England at Wembley but went ahead when Batshuayi converted from point-blank range at the second attempt after being set up by Alexis Saelemakers, one of five debutants used by coach Roberto Martinez.
Batshuayi also had the best chances of the first half, being denied by Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo and blasting a free kick from the edge of the penalty area wide.
Substitute goalkeeper Hendrick Van Crombrugge, who rejoined the squad hours before kick-off after the birth of his child this week and replace Simon Mignolet to earn his first cap, made a reflex stop to deny Nicolas Pepe an equaliser after Wilfried Zaha had cleverly set him up.
Zaha continued to trouble the home defence, however, and was fouled by debutant Sebastiaan Bornauw in the box, leading to Ivory Coast's late penalty.
It was a first international in 11 months for the African side who next play Japan in Utrecht on Tuesday.
Belgium's game against England on Sunday is followed by another Nations League match in Iceland on Wednesday.
Chile furious at penalty decisions in opening loss
Chilean footballers berated South American referees and officials on Thursday after several penalty decisions went against them in a frustrating 2-1 loss to Uruguay in their opening World Cup qualifier in Montevideo.
Luis Suarez got Uruguay's first goal from the spot shortly before half time with the aid of the video assistant referee (VAR).
In a repeat of the controversies that have assailed English football this season, the Paraguayan referee took a long time to review the VAR but pointed to the spot after the ball bounced off Sebastian Vegas’ body and on to his arm as he slid in to block a shot.
Although Alexis Sanchez equalised for Chile early in the second half, substitute Maxi Gomez made it 2-1 in injury time to give the home side a barely deserved win.
The Chileans' ire was exacerbated by the referee's refusal to consider two of their own penalty claims, including one clear handball in the dying minutes of the match.
The country's union of professional footballers threatened to make an official protest to the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) over the "glaring lack of criteria" used in the decisions.
Current and former players, too, expressed their anger.
Gary Medel, the captain who missed the game through injury, wrote on social media: "I'm saying nothing so I don't get into trouble!! But that was terrible @CONMEBOL"
And former striker Ivan Zamorano also took to Twitter.
"How long are these robberies going to be allowed in South America," Zamorano wrote. "Real thieves. Match gifted to Uruguay."