By James Michael Igiri
Lionel Messi’s hat-trick Tuesday night, spurred Argentina into the World Cup just as South American champions Chile suffered a shock elimination.
The Barcelona superstar scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give Argentina the lead after an opening goal by Ecuador’s Romario Ibarra.
Messi then assured his country’s qualification with a second half stunner, thereby bringing to 44, the total number of hat-tricks in his illustrious career.
The Argentinian superstar can now look forward to his fourth appearance at the World Cup next year 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.
Perhaps Messi, aged 30, now has one final chance to emulate his idol Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup which has since eluded him.
Relieved Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli- the third coach appointed during the qualifying campaign-expressed his gratitude to Messi following Tuesday’s win.
“Messi doesn’t owe a World Cup to Argentina — football owes a World Cup to Messi,” Sampaoli said.
“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.
But three goals from Messi ensured they went away happy; and while they celebrated, the night became miserable for the Chilean national team as the winners of the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, were flawlessly 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.