Lionel Messi put in a stunning big-game performance for Argentina to silence the critics who say he doesn’t perform as well for his country as for his club Barcelona.
The 30-year-old hit a hat-trick just when Argentina needed him most, helping the South American giants come from behind to beat Ecuador 3-1 and qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
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Romario Ibarra had stunned Argentina after just 38 seconds with the opening goal for Ecuador, but Messi levelled things up just 11 minutes later.
By the 20th minute, Messi had put the visitors in front with another well-taken strike, and he completed his hat-trick just after the hour-mark with a beautiful solo effort.
Messi now has 61 goals in 122 caps for his country, and this was his fifth treble at international level.
Having failed to win a major honour at this level, Messi will now hope this can be the start of a successful summer in Russia next year.
For all his achievements at club level, many have argued that Messi cannot truly be held in the same category as legends such as Pele and Diego Maradona unless he finally gets his hands on the World Cup trophy.
Still, there can be no denying Messi showed up in a high-pressure situation here as Argentina needed a win to ensure qualification for next year’s tournament.