Football: Hat-trick hero Lionel Messi sends Argentina to 2018 Russia World Cup

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Facing a potential World Cup without Argentina, the country's national team won in dramatic fashion with a hat-trick by superstar Lionel Messi, giving fans new hope.
Lionel Messi celebrates after he scored Argentina's third goal against Ecuador. PHOTO: REUTERS

QUITO, ECUADOR - Lionel Messi was the hero for Argentina as the forward scored a hat-trick to seal a come-from-behind 3-1 win against Ecuador on Tuesday (Oct 10) that sealed Argentina's spot in next year's World Cup Finals.

La Albiceleste, who won the World Cup twice in 1978 and 1986, were in danger of missing out of the 2018 edition in Russia after starting the match in sixth place of the South American qualifying group.

The top four countries qualify directly while the fifth-placed team head into an inter-confederation play-off against New Zealand from Oceania.

Brazil finished top with 41 points from 18 games, followed by Uruguay (31), Argentina (28) and Colombia (27). Peru finished fifth (26) and will face New Zealand in November.

At the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa in Quito, the hosts stunned Argentina by scoring after just 38 seconds as midfielder Romario Iborra tapped home.

But Messi, Argentina's talisman and captain, soon worked his magic and after a fine interchange with Angel Di Maria, scored the equaliser in the 12th minute.

The 30-year-old Barcelona star then slammed home a powerful left-foot shot in the 20th minute - his 20th goal for his country in World Cup qualifying which is also a South American record - to give the visitors the lead.

He completed his hat-trick in the 62nd minute with a cheeky lob over Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera from inside the box.

It was Messi's 21st career goal in 45 World Cup qualifiers.

His three goals in Ecuador were Messi's first away goals for Argentina in the current qualifying campaign.

Cometh the hour, cometh the hero.

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