Lionel Messi fired Argentina into the World Cup with a brilliant hat-trick on Tuesday as South American champions Chile suffered a shock elimination. Messi single-handedly resurrected Argentina’s hopes 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.
The Barcelona superstar scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give Argentina the lead after Ecuador had stunned the visitors with an opening goal after from Romario Ibarra after 38 seconds. Messi then completed his hat-trick with a sublime chip in the second half to seal the victory.
The Argentine superstar can now look forward to his fourth appearance at the World Cup at next year’s finals in Russia, where he will attempt once more to lead his country to an elusive major title.
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, now has one, perhaps final, chance to emulate his idol Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup.
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. However an inspired Messi rapidly changed the picture despite having to play at the 2.850 meters of the Ecuadorian capital Quito.
But while Argentina celebrated, it was a miserable night for Chile. The Chileans – winners of the Copa America in 2015 and 2016 – were soundly beaten 3-0 by Brazil in Sao Paulo to see themselves eliminated on goal difference.
Barcelona’s Paulinho opened the scoring before Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus bagged a brace to secure a win already-qualified Brazil which relegated Chile to sixth place in the standings.
The Chileans finished level on points with Peru, who secured a two-leg playoff against New Zealand, but trailed on goal difference.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi announced his resignation following the exit. “I take full responsibility,” Pizzi told reporters. “We gave everything but it was not enough. I will not continue.”
Peru meanwhile kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1982 with a fighting 1-1 draw with Colombia in Lima.
Colombia took the lead through James Rodriguez in the 56th minute before veteran striker Paolo Guerrero equalized in the 74th minute. The result saw Colombia qualify alongside Uruguay, 4-2 winners over Bolivia in Montevideo.
Uruguay, who finished the standings in second place, were jolted by a Gaston Silva own goal which gave Bolivia the lead on 24 minutes. Martin Caceres and Edinson Cavani scored twice just before half-time to give Uruguay the lead before two goals from Luis Suarez put the hosts 4-1 up. Bolivia reduced the deficit when Uruguay’s Diego Godin scored the second own goal of the night.
In the day’s other game, Paraguay’s hopes of qualification evaporated in a 1-0 loss to Venezuela in Asuncion.