Messi scored a hat-trick in Argentina’s 3-1 win over Ecuador on Wednesday morning to send the Albiceleste to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The last time Argentina did not qualify for a World Cup was 48 years ago, but it was a scary possibility before Jorge Sampaoli’s side took to the field in Ecuador.
The hosts shocked the visitors in the first minute of the match through Romario Ibarra, who found the back of the Argentina net following a clever one-two in the away side’s box.
Angel Di Maria flashed a shot wide in the ninth minute of the clash, after linking up with Messi on the edge of the Ecuador area.
The FC Barcelona superstar then scored the equaliser for Argentina after 13 minutes following a clever square ball from Di Maria. Messi toe-poked the ball past Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera, and the strike gave his team a boost in confidence.
The next few minutes saw Argentina take complete control of the affair, with Ecuador being pegged back in their own half. The 30-year-old then put his side ahead with a stunning strike in the 20th minute, with the away side now in the driving seat.
Banguera was forced to make a save in the 32nd minute after Messi played a through ball into the home side’s box for Di Maria, whose effort found the goalkeeper equal to the task. The teams went into the break with Argentina 2-1 up.
Messi once again lit up the stadium when he scored his hat-trick goal in the 62nd minute after cleverly lifting the ball over the Ecuador shot-stopper, who was helpless in his efforts to get a hand to the ball.
With Argentina in control, neither side looked to push towards goal as Sampaoli’s men went into the final 10 minutes 3-1 up.
Messi’s heroics booked Argentina’s place at the World Cup in Russia next year, with the final scoreline being 3-1 to the Albiceleste.