Messi tre­ble fires Ar­gentina to World Cup; US knocked out

S Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons Chile suf­fers a shock elim­i­na­tion

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

MON­TE­V­IDEO: Lionel Messi fired Ar­gentina into the World Cup with a bril­liant hat-trick on Tues­day as South Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons Chile suf­fered a shock elim­i­na­tion. Messi sin­gle-hand­edly res­ur­rected Ar­gentina’s hopes in a 3-1 win over Ecuador in Quito that drew a line un­der a chaotic cam­paign that had left the two-time cham­pi­ons in dan­ger of fail­ing to qual­ify. The Barcelona su­per­star scored twice in­side the open­ing 20 min­utes to give Ar­gentina the lead after Ecuador had stunned the vis­i­tors with an open­ing goal after from Ro­mario Ibarra after 38 sec­onds.

Messi then com­pleted his hat-trick-the 44th of his daz­zling ca­reer-with a sub­lime chip in the sec­ond half to seal the vic­tory. The Ar­gen­tinian su­per­star can now look for­ward to his fourth ap­pear­ance at the World Cup at next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia, where he will at­tempt once more to lead his coun­try to an elu­sive ma­jor ti­tle.

Since his coun­try’s de­feat to Ger­many in the 2014 World Cup fi­nal, Messi has twice suf­fered agony at ma­jor tour­na­ments with Ar­gentina, los­ing the fi­nals of both the 2015 Copa Amer­ica and the 2016 Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario. Messi, who will turn 31 dur­ing next year’s World Cup, now has one, per­haps fi­nal, chance to em­u­late his idol Diego Maradona by lift­ing the World Cup. Re­lieved

Ar­gentina man­ager Jorge Sam­paoli-the third coach ap­pointed dur­ing the qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign-could not avoid ex­press­ing his grat­i­tude to Messi fol­low­ing Tues­day’s win.

“Messi doesn’t owe a World Cup to Ar­genti­nafoot­ball owes a World Cup to Messi,” Sam­paoli said. “He’s the best player in his­tory. This is a team vic­tory. They played a bril­liant match.” Messi later told re­porters the prospect of not qual­i­fy­ing had weighed heav­ily on the squad. “It would have been crazy for Ar­gentina, for all of us,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously there was that fear, but to­day we knew how to play.” The striker said he ex­pects Ar­gentina to im­prove now the pres­sure of qual­i­fy­ing has liften. “I think there is go­ing to be a very big change. I think the team will grow much bet­ter now,” he added.

MESSI MAS­TER­CLASS

Ar­gentina had started the day out­side the au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tions, need­ing to se­cure their first win in Quito since 2001 to be cer­tain of claim­ing at least a play­off place.

It looked as if Ar­gentina’s worst fears were set to be­come a re­al­ity after Ibarra’s open­ing goal in the first minute.

But it was not long be­fore Messi stamped his au­thor­ity on the game, haul­ing his team back into the con­test with a com­posed open­ing goal. The equaliser came in the 12th minute when Messi darted for­ward and quickly re­leased An­gel Di Maria down the left. The Paris Saint-Ger­main at­tacker duly re­turned the favour as Messi raced into the penalty area to poke home a low fin­ish past Max­imo Banguera. Eight min­utes later Messi fired Ar­gentina into the lead with an­other vir­tu­oso strike, lash­ing into the top cor­ner. Messi then com­pleted his hat-trick with a sub­lime chip in the 62nd minute to make it 3-1. But while Ar­gentina cel­e­brated, it was a mis­er­able night for Sam­paoli’s for­mer team Chile. The Chileans-win­ners of the Copa Amer­ica in 2015 and 2016 — were soundly beaten 3-0 by Brazil in Sao Paulo to see them­selves elim­i­nated on goal dif­fer­ence.

Barcelona’s Paulinho opened the scor­ing be­fore Manch­ester City’s Gabriel Je­sus bagged a brace to se­cure a win al­ready-qual­i­fied Brazil which rel­e­gated Chile to sixth place in the stand­ings.— AFP

Foot­ball owes a World Cup to Messi

QUITO: Ar­gentina’s Ni­co­las Ota­mendi, left, fights for the ball against Ecuador’s Roberto Or­donez dur­ing their 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing soc­cer match at the Atahualpa Olympic Sta­dium in Quito. — AP

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