Messi, Messi, Messi! W

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

HEN it re­ally mat­tered and when the pres­sure was most in­tense, Lionel Messi de­liv­ered for Ar­gentina. On the brink of be­ing elim­i­nated from World Cup qual­i­fy­ing for the first time in al­most five decades, Messi scored all three goals in Ar­gentina’s come­back 3-1 vic­tory Tues­day at Ecuador — over­com­ing the thin air in the An­des.

“It would’ve been crazy if Ar­gentina didn’t play the World Cup,” Messi said. “This is what we came for. And on top of that we started be­hind. Luck­ily, we could re­act quickly and take the lead.”

Messi said the Ar­gentina squad “will change, will grow a lot, will be stronger after this.”

But there’s still work to do for Ar­gentina, the two-time cham­pi­ons who lost the fi­nal three years ago to Ger­many 1-0.

Messi has yet to hoist a ma­jor tro­phy for his coun­try of birth, a con­trast to the lau­rels he’s brought Barcelona.

He’ll turn 31 dur­ing the World Cup in Rus­sia, so this may be his last chance.

“Messi does not owe Ar­gentina a World Cup, but rather foot­ball owes him a World Cup,” Ar­gen­tine coach Jorge Sam­paoli said.

The top four teams in South Amer­ica get au­to­matic spots at next year’s tour­na­ment in Rus­sia. Brazil has 41 points and clinched months ago. The other three ad­vanc­ing Tues­day went in this or­der: Uruguay (31), Ar­gentina (28) and Colom­bia (27).

Uruguay beat Bo­livia 4-2, Ar­gentina won 3-1, Colom­bia drew 1-1 with Peru and last-place Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0.

Peru (26) placed fifth and will keep alive its bid for a first World Cup ap­pear­ance since 1982 after edg­ing Chile for the South Amer­i­can spot in the in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal play­off next month against Ocea­nia rep­re­sen­ta­tive New Zealand.

On a dra­matic last day of con­ti­nen­tal qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ments, six South Amer­i­can teams — sep­a­rated by only four points over 17 matches — had shots at the World Cup en­ter­ing play.

Chile, after a 3-0 loss to Brazil, and Paraguay missed out. Venezuela, Bo­livia and Ecuador were al­ready out of con­tention.

3 TIMES MESSI

It looked easy for Ar­gentina. But it wasn’t, par­tic­u­larly after Ro­mario Ibarra gave Ecuador a 1-0 lead in the first minute at 2,850 me­tres in Ecuador’s cap­i­tal.

“Even with a goal against us you could see the cer­tainty of a team that knew how to play the game,” Sam­paoli said.

Messi for sure, and run­ning mate An­gel di Maria.

Messi scored off a pass from Di Maria in the 12th, left-foot­ing home from close range. In the 20th, Di Maria slipped a pass through to Messi, who drove the ball into the top cor­ner from 15 yards.

Messi got his third in the 62nd, weight­ing a per­fect 18-yard shot that went in just over the fin­gers of Ecuador keeper Max­imo Banguera.

Ar­gentina had scored only one goal in its last four qual­i­fy­ing games, and only 16 in 17 qual­i­fiers en­ter­ing the fi­nal. COLOM­BIA AND PERU

Colom­bia ad­vanced with a 1-1 draw in Lima, Peru. The re­sult also put Peru into a play­off in Novem­ber with New Zealand for a spot in Rus­sia.

James Ro­driguez gave Colom­bia a 1-0 lead in the 56th, but Peru’s Paolo Guer­rero equalised in the 76th to give Peru a chance.

“We’re fifth,” so we get the play­off,” Guer­rero said. “We could have done a bit more, but the big thing we can think of is the play­off.”

CHILE OUT

Two-time de­fend­ing South Amer­i­can cham­pion Chile needed to win to get its third straight World Cup berth, but Brazil wrecked that with a 3-0 vic­tory.

Peru’s 1-1 draw also re­moved any chance of Chile slip­ping in.

Gabriel Je­sus scored twice and Paulinho got the other. It was the 12th con­sec­u­tive un­beaten qual­i­fy­ing game since Tite has been in charge of the Brazil­ian team. He took over more than a year ago from Dunga.

URUGUAY SET Uruguay was a cinch to ad­vance. It did with style, beat­ing Bo­livia 4-2. Luis Suarez scored twice with the other goals com­ing from Martin Cac­eres and Edin­son Ca­vani. – AP

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