LONDON, United Kingdom (Kurdistan 24) – A Lionel Messi hat-trick dragged Argentina to the World Cup Finals in Russia next year with a dramatic win over Ecuador to end a lackluster campaign on a high.
Sitting in sixth place, Argentina needed a victory in Quito, at the high altitude of the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa.
For all of Argentina’s superior firepower and a roster of superstars, the qualification was marred by underwhelming performances and a struggle to score goals.
The defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup Final and successive Copa America Final defeats to Chile on penalties had created an aura of negativity and doubt going into the campaign.
The fallout from those final losses had even prompted Messi into brief international retirement 15 months ago.
Once the game started, Argentina quickly had a mountain to climb after only 40 seconds as Renato Ibarra swept home for Ecuador and sparked panic among the Argentinian team.
The weight of expectations on Argentina became in danger of being unbearable, and the unthinkable of a World Cup without Messi was becoming a distinct reality as a shaken Argentina team were in danger of unfolding.
That is until the world’s greatest player and five-time world player of the year shouldered the burden of the nation and single-handedly fired Argentina to the World Cup.
A rampant Messi inspired his compatriots to a historic turnaround as he fired a hat-trick to book a spot in Russia next year.
Remarkably, Argentina had not scored in open play for 450 minutes, and Messi had failed to score a single away goal in the qualifying campaign.
Nevertheless, football is judged on key moments, and Messi delivered a stunning performance to lift his nation when it mattered most.
A delighted Argentina coach, Jorge Sampaoli, stated, “Luckily, the nationality of the best player in the world is Argentinian.”
“I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi. We should help him be in the World Cup,” Sampaoli added.
Fortunately for Argentina, and football fans around the world, Messi will grace the World Cup next year, and have another chance to achieve glory for his nation.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany