Lionel Messi did the trick for Argentina on Tuesday, when his hattrick against Ecuador sealed qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The 2014 runners-up needed a win in the high-altitude capital of Quito to avoid missing out and went behind in the first minute when Romario Ibarra combined with Roberto Ordonez to open the scoring.
What followed was a typical masterclass from the Barcelona forward, who linked up with Angel Di Maria to equalise in the 12th minute, stole the ball off of a defender and fired it into the roof of the net for his second in the 20th minute, before exquisitely dinking it over the goalkeeper for his third in the 62nd minute.
"There was always the fear of coming here to play," Messi said after the win. "Luckily, we could react and we managed to play well.
"We were calm, we achieved the goal and that is the most important thing. Thanks to God, we fulfilled the objective. The group deserved to qualify. It would have been crazy not to be in the World Cup."
Messi added that "it was unfair what happened in the World Cup and the two Copa Americas" when they were losing finalists, and they "ended up suffering to enter this World Cup and hopefully we will get it once and for all."
While the No.10 gets to have another shot at winning silverware for his country, head coach Jorge Sampaoli said he told his players that "Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi".