Messi gives him­self a fi­nal shot at glory

Sam­paoli: World Cup wouldn’t be same with­out him

Sport360 - - Football World Cup 2018 Qualifiers - By Si­mon Foster @Sport360 edi­to­rial@sport360.com

Jorge Sam­paoli has asked his Ar­gentina play­ers to step up and help Lionel Messi win the World Cup after they claimed a 3-1 come­back vic­tory over Ecuador to qual­ify for next sum­mer’s tour­na­ment.

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 hat­trick – the 44th of his daz­zling ca­reer – with a sub­lime chip in the sec­ond half to seal the vic­tory. Sam­paoli be­lieves the five-time Bal­lon d’Or win­ner de­serves more than any­thing to win the show­piece.

He said: “I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Ar­gentina, but foot­ball owed the World Cup to Messi.

“The na­tion­al­ity of the best player in the world is luck­ily Ar­gen­tine. Foot­ball, the World Cup, could not be left (the same) with­out Messi. We had to play with that in mind.

“As a con­se­quence of that pres­sure we are stronger now, this qual­i­fi­ca­tion will make us stronger to face the fu­ture.

“We had the pos­si­bil­ity to help him to be in an­other World Cup. He is the best player in the his­tory of soc­cer and I’m very ex­cited to be in a group near him.”

Messi can now look for­ward to his fourth ap­pear­ance at the World Cup at next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia, 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.

“We de­serve to be there after what we have gone through dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing,” Messi told Marca.

“We did not de­serve to miss out and our place at the tour­na­ment is mer­ited. Of course things were made even more dif­fi­cult for us when we went a goal be­hind.

“It isn’t easy to play here with the unique con­di­tions (the high al­ti­tude in Quito) but for­tu­nately for us ev­ery­thing went per­fectly.

“It was im­por­tant for us that ev­ery­thing went well and when ev­ery­body is to­gether in the same di­rec­tion, it is a lot eas­ier for us.”

But while Ar­gentina cel­e­brated, it was a mis­er­able night for Sam­paoli’s for­mer team Chile. The win­ners of the Copa Amer­ica in 2015 and 2016 were soundly beaten 3-0 by Brazil 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.

The Chileans fin­ished level on points with Peru, who se­cured a two-leg play­off against New Zealand, but trailed on goal dif­fer­ence.

Chile coach Juan An­to­nio Pizzi an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion fol­low­ing the exit.

“I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Pizzi said. “We gave ev­ery­thing but it was not enough. I will not con­tinue.”

Cap­tain Ar­turo Vi­dal an­nounced his re­tire­ment from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball with his “soul crushed”.

Vi­dal, who has won 97 caps, said: “Thank you lads, for ev­ery­thing, for all these years to­gether... for teach­ing me and for show­ing a coun­try that with ef­fort and work any­thing is pos­si­ble in life.”

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