“I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi.”
Coach Jorge Sampaoli was speaking after a Lionel Messi hat-trick against Ecuador – the 44th of his career – ensured Argentina survived a scare to reach the World Cup finals.
The 2014 runners-up began the day sixth in the group, knowing only a top-four place would see them qualify automatically for Russia.
They made a terrible start in Quito, conceding inside 38 seconds, but the Barcelona superstar led Argentina’s fight back to ensure they secured their place in next year’s tournament.
It was part of a remarkable night of football that saw:
- Panama qualify for their first World Cup with a controversial goal in a 2-1 win over Costa Rica
- The United States miss out on the tournament for the first time since 1986 after losing to Trinidad & Tobago
- Chile manager Juan Antonio Pizzi step down after his side lost to Brazil to miss out on qualifying for their third consecutive World Cup
- Portugal beat Switzerland to replace them at the top of their qualifying group but the Netherlands go out despite winning
source: BBC Sport