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Messi’s hat-trick fires Argentina into World Cup

QUITO: Lionel Messi scored a brilliant hat-trick as Argentina sealed their place at the 2018 World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Ecuador here Tuesday night. Barcelona superstar Messi single-handedly rescued Argentina s World Cup hopes as the South American giants came from behind to win in Quito. Romario Ibarra had given Ecuador a shock lead after only 38 seconds but Messi struck twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give Argentina the lead before adding a third in the second half. It was a vintage display from Messi, delivering for Argentina when it mattered most to erase fears that the two-time champions might not qualify for next year s finals in Russia. Argentina had got off to a disastrous start, conceding a goal in the opening minute as Ecuador took full advantage of hesitancy in the visiting side s defensive ranks. Argentina stalwart Javier Mascherano failed to deal with a speculative long ball forward from Dario Aimar, directing a headed clearance into the path of Romario Ibarra. Ibarra calmly headed to team-mate Roberto Ordones who then steered a header back to Ibarra for the Universidad Catolica midfielder. It was the worst possible start for a shell-shocked Argentina, who had kicked off chasing their first victory in the Ecuadoran capital since 2001. For a while Argentina struggled to get to grips with a vibrant Ecuador, who looked to push forward at every opportunity. But it was not long before Messi stamped his authority on proceedings, hauling his team back into the contest with a composed opening goal.–AFP

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