Lionel Messi scored a hattrick in Argentina’s 3-1 victory over Ecuador, that secured the Albiceleste’s World Cup spot.
Argentina went to Ecuador with one clear objective in their mind – a victory that would seal their qualification to the 2018 World Cup. Despite their last matches being far from convincing, the Argentinian fans were putting all of their hopes on the talents of their best footballer – Lionel Messi.
And the number 10 did not disappoint. In a crucial match for the football destiny of his country, Messi delivered – and he delivered big time. Having his own personal reasons on top of the country’s hopes to take part in the upcoming World Cup, Messi scored a hat-trick to overturn a match that Ecuador found themselves leading from minute 1.
For Lionel Messi it was one of the last chances to win a World Cup. If Argentina would have missed the presence in Russia, it’s hard to believe that Messi would have had another realistic chance to lift the trophy in 2022, when Barcelona’s player would be 35.
Argentina needed a victory in Ecuador, as well as other results to play in their favour, in order to qualify directly to World Cup. The pre-match statistics were not encouraging for Argentina. The Albiceleste only won once in Quito, where the altitude makes it almost impossible for Ecuador’s opponents to perform at full potential. Also, Argentina failed to score a single goal from open play since November 2016, a less than encouraging statistic going into a decisive World Cup Qualifiers where you need to score.
Ecuador were decided to make life difficult for Argentina. In fact, they only needed 39 seconds to open the score through Ibarra. However, Messi was not about to give up. And this time, he was not alone. Angel di Maria sent a magical pass in the 12th minute, that found Barcelona’s player in a finishing position. Messi took no chances and finished accurately, levelling the score and keeping the World Cup dream alive.
With the next two goals, Messi proved his commitment to his nation and to the presence at the World Cup. First, in the 20th minute, he chased a loose ball, powering past a defender and sending the ball into the net from a less than comfortable angle. Then, in the 62nd minute, Messi proved his absolute brilliance with a lob that left Ecuador’s goalkeeper, Banguera, stranded.
Messi sealed the 44th hat-trick of his career and perhaps the most important one, in a moment when his country needed him the most. It has to be said that this time, as opposed to the previous few matches for the national team, Messi had help from his teammates. Angel Di Maria, Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio all stood out with their performances last night, acknowledging the importance of the moment.
Messi saved the day and took Argentina to the World Cup. But Sampaoli will have a lot of work to do if he wants to achieve any big things in Russia next summer.