Af­ter Ar­gentina mir­a­cle, Messi leads Barca

The Freeman - - SPORTS -

BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi has willed Ar­gentina into the World Cup.

Now he can ex­hale and get back to what he does best: Keep­ing Barcelona atop the Span­ish league.

Just when the stakes couldn't have been higher, Messi struck three goals to bring Ar­gentina back for a 3-1 win at Ecuador on Tues­day and seize a last­minute ticket to Rus­sia.

The star forward will have lit­tle chance to rest, how­ever, with Barcelona count­ing on him to lead the team in its visit to Atletico Madrid on Satur­day in the Span­ish cap­i­tal.

Messi has won a com­bined 17 tro­phies for Barcelona in the Cham­pi­ons League, Span­ish league and Copa del Rey.

But his suc­cess with Barcelona has only in­creased the pres­sure on him to de­liver sil­ver­ware for Ar­gentina. So far, he has lifted Ar­gentina to only finals in the World Cup and Copa Amer­ica.

Ar­gentina strug­gled to pro­duce goals through­out South Amer­i­can qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup head­ing into the must-win match in Quito. And its chances looked grim when Ecuador scored in the first minute.

"It would've been crazy if Ar­gentina didn't play the World Cup," Messi said af­ter his hat trick.

When Ney­mar bolted for Paris Saint-Ger­main in Au­gust, Barcelona en­tered into panic mode and scram­bled to buy play­ers to fill the gap left by the Brazil striker.

It had to break a club record for spend­ing on a trans­fer to pry Ous­mane Dem­bele from Borus­sia Dort­mund, only for the France forward to tear a ten­don in his left leg in just his third ap­pear­ance.

But through­out the tur­moil and turnover, Messi has re­sponded by play­ing one of his best pe­ri­ods of football.

The 30-year-old Messi has 11 goals in seven league matches, in­clud­ing one four-goal out­ing and a tre­ble. That has helped Barcelona outscore op­po­nents 23-2 in the league.

He has also net­ted twice in the Cham­pi­ons League in wins over Ju­ven­tus and Sport­ing Lis­bon.

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