Argentina beats El Salvador 3-0 as Philly prepares for the 2026 FIFA World Cup

Rodrigo Huescas (L) of Mexico fights for the ball with Roman Vega (R) of Argentina during the U-23 international friendly between Mexico and Argentina at Estadio El Encanto on March 22, 2024 in Mazatlan, Mexico.

FIFA World Cup champions Argentina beat El Salvador 3-0 on a frigid Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field, in the stadium’s first game after the announcement it will host six games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The match was muted by the absence of Argentina’s captain, global superstar and arguably the greatest player of all time Lionel Messi, who had to pull out from the squad after picking up a hamstring injury. Messi’s presence, as it has since his arrival in the U.S. to play for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami, would have probably ensured a near-full attendance like it did when he faced the Philadelphia Union in Chester last year.

The game drew a far-from-full attendance of around 15,000, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Factors like Messi’s absence, the game being announced just four weeks ago after Argentina’s scheduled games in China were canceled, the weather being 41 degrees Fahrenheit with rain in the forecast, comedian Jo Koy performing across the street at the Wells Fargo Center, March Madness and the question of whether ticket prices probably should have been nudged down a couple days ago all probably contributed to the low turnout.

Despite Messi’s absence, the world champions fielded a squad full of world-class players, most playing for the biggest club teams in the world like Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atlético de Madrid.

“For us as Philadelphia to be a host to players that are so ingrained in soccer worldwide is awesome,” Meg Kane, host city executive of Philadelphia Soccer 2026, said before the game. “In addition, of course, Argentina is the reigning World Cup champion.”

“I think, for all of us, we’re really excited to be able to draw that type of elite talent to Lincoln Financial Field,” she said.

Kane said that since February’s World Cup schedule announcement, the committee has been working with FIFA in key areas of the city’s preparations, particularly focusing on transportation mobility, commercial rights and safety and security.

Ahead of Friday’s game, the stadium parking lot tailgates were lively, but a far cry from the ones in October, when 62,284 showed up to see Mexico face Germany.

A strong Salvadoran turnout was present, matching the turnout of Argentina fans in the tailgate.

“We thought we might be like a one-off, repping El Salvador,” said Sofía Vega, a 25-year-old law student at Penn State who came to the game with her boyfriend, Christian Navas, who was born in El Salvador. “But we’ve seen a lot of El Salvador and we’ve heard some cumbia playing. So it’s good to hear the culture playing.”

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