Messi gives himself a final shot at glory
Sampaoli: World Cup wouldn’t be same without him
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.”