Talk of pulling out a rabbit from the hat and Lionel Messi will fit the bill perfectly. The Barcelona mega star saved his country from a possible elimination from the World Cup after weighing in with a brilliant hat-trick on Tuesday against Ecuador.
Messi almost single-handedly revived Argentina’s hopes for their 17th appearance at the World Cup in a 3-1 win over Ecuador in Quito that drew a line under a chaotic campaign that had left the two-time champions in danger of failing to qualify.
Messi scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give Argentina the lead after Ecuador had stunned the visitors with an opening goal from Romario Ibarra less than a minute into the game.
The Argentine football wizard then completed his hat-trick — the 44th of his dazzling career — with a sublime chip in the second half to seal the victory.
Since his country’s defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, Messi has twice suffered agony at major tournaments with Argentina, losing the finals of both the 2015 Copa America and the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
Messi, who will turn 31 during next year’s World Cup arguably have only next year summer fiesta to emulate his idol Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup.
Thankful Argentina manager, Jorge Sampaoli could not avoid expressing his gratitude to Messi following Tuesday’s win.
Sounding rather philosophical, Sampaoli mentioned that:
“Messi doesn’t owe a World Cup to Argentina — football owes a World Cup to Messi
“He’s the best player in history. This is a team victory. They played a brilliant match.”
Argentina had started the day outside the automatic qualifying positions, needing to secure their first win in Quito since 2001 to be certain of claiming at least a playoff place.
It looked as if Argentina’s worst fears were set to become a reality after Ibarra’s opening goal in the first minute. But it was not long before Messi stamped his authority on the game, hauling his team back into the contest with a composed opening goal.
The equalizer came in the 12th minute when Messi darted forward and quickly released Angel Di Maria down the left.
The Paris Saint-Germain attacker duly returned the favour as Messi raced into the penalty area to poke home a low finish past Maximo Banguera.
Eight minutes later he fired Argentina into the lead with another virtuoso strike, lashing into the top corner. He then completed his hat-trick with a sublime chip in the 62nd minute to make it 3-1.