Argentina needed Lionel Messi more than ever in their World Cup qualifier against Ecuador on Tuesday night, and boy did he deliver.
Facing the very real possibility of missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia before kick-off, Argentina were in serious trouble when Ecuador took the lead in the first minute of the match.
La Albiceleste were so reliant on Messi during qualifying and they were fortunate that he was at his very best in Quito.
A hat-trick from the Barcelona maestro spared the country’s blushes and booked their place in next year’s competition.
For an idea of just how important Messi was to Argentina’s hopes of reaching Russia, here’s an incredible statistic: in their final eight qualifiers, the South American’s had just two different scorers - Messi and own goal.
No doubt Jorge Sampaoli will hope to fix that problem before the World Cup gets underway next June.
Argentina's players heaped praise on Messi
Quite rightly, Messi’s teammates were quick to lavish praise on the man who single-handedly secured their qualification.
"He is amazing, the best by a long way and it is down to him that Argentina are at the World Cup,” Angel di Maria said, per Sport.
Sergio Romero added: “When you need him he appears. He carried the team and was once against fantastic. We are proud of him and that he is Argentine.”
Video of Messi carrying Argentina to the World Cup
Messi scored seven goals in qualifying, which is impressive considering he played just 10 of 18 matches owing to injuries and a one-game suspension.
And it was in those 10 matches where the 30-year-old really made a difference.
A fan on Twitter has made a video of Messi’s seven goals and two assists in qualifying, highlighting just how he carried Argentina to the World Cup.
It’s special viewing for anyone who appreciates beautiful football.
2018 could be Messi's final World Cup
It’s quite saddening to realise that 2018 could be the year Messi makes his final World Cup appearance.
He will be 35 when Qatar 2022 rolls around and, while nobody is suggesting he won’t be good enough for the national team then, you have to wonder whether he will still fancy another run.
Indeed, Messi’s brief retirement in 2016 suggests he’s ready to quit international football sooner than many expect.
It’s for that reason that we should appreciate Messi’s presence in Russia.
Can Messi and Argentina win the 2018 World Cup? Let us know in the comments section below!
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