South America World Cup Qualifier Round Up: Ecuador 1-3 Argentina
Lionel Messi’s heroic hat-trick dragged Argentina back from the brink of an embarrassing World Cup exit with a 3-1 win in Ecuador.
Brazil had already qualified and Luis Suarez scored twice as Uruguay beat Bolivia 4-2 to qualify, with Colombia also advancing with a 1-1 draw in Peru.
Peru finished fifth in South American qualifying and will now meet New Zealand in a two-legged play-off.
After the shock of falling behind after 40 seconds to Renato Ibarra, Messi shouldered the hopes of an entire nation and put in one of the greatest individual performances in international football history by scoring a famous treble when it mattered most.
However, Argentina, World Cup runners-up in Brazil in 2014, fought back with Messi in stunning form.
His influence on the game was growing by the minute and he had soon single-handily dragged his country back into the World Cup with another sublime finish. Ecuador squandered possession, which gave Messi the invitation to pounce. He didn’t waste the opportunity as he drove into the area and fired into the roof of the net, making a tricky finish look devilishly easy.
His second goal came eight minutes later with a powerful strike from the edge of the area before a fine solo goal in the second half sealed the victory.
Chile, the defending Copa America champion were aiming to qualify for their third successive World Cup after reaching the last 16 in 2010 and 2014.
They began the final round of matches in third place, but fell behind to two Brazil goals in three second-half minutes from Paulinho and Gabriel Jesus.
With Peru scoring a late equaliser against Colombia, Chile needed to score to be in the play-offs. In injury-time, Chile attacked with all of their players, including goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, in the Brazil half.
However, the attack broke down, Brazil launched the ball forward and Jesus walked the ball into the net for his second with Manchester City team-mate Bravo stranded to confirm Chile’s elimination.