Kolkata: He may have been under pressure after failing to inspire Argentina to a win in the past three encounters of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign but Lionel Messi proved just once again why he is billed as the greatest player ever to grace the game of football, by scoring a hat-trick in the must win match against Ecuador in Quito, 2,850 metres above sea level to single-handedly carry Argentina into the World Cup to be held in Russia in the year 2018.
Playing against an opponent at a place where they had last won in 2001, Argentina’s hopes of making it to Russia received a blow when Ecuador scored in the very first minute through Romario Ibarra but a Messi special inside the first 20 minutes of the first half and then another in the 64th minute was enough for La Albiceleste to earn an automatic qualification in the World Cup.
Comes the hour; Cometh the man- these are the words that can be perfectly used for the 30-year-old Lionel Messi. Much was said about him for failing to replicate the same performances he put in a Barcelona jersey, but he stood the test of the moment dragging a team that has failed to deliver a single goal in the past three games.
Starting the match at sixth place, Argentina needed nothing less than a win but within 45 seconds, their hopes looked all but over, as Romario Ibarra gave Ecuador the decisive lead.
Yet two goals in eight minutes from Lionel Messi put Argentina in front and brought the game alive. With three defenders surrounding him, the five times Ballon D’Or winner took a small run outside the box and then placed it above the keeper’s head to add a third in the 62nd minute. Those three were enough to hand La Albiceleste a World Cup berth. He did not receive much of the ball but every time he did, hope came alive in the hearts of the fans watching. In fact, he made the fewest touches in the match but those were enough for him to create his magic and save his team on the day.
It is often said, when the going gets tough the tough gets going and the diminutive midfielder proved it with his sheer brilliance. Although this campaign was a worse performance by the two time World Cup winners, Messi’s coming to fire just in time may be an early sign of what might come in the 2018 World Cup in Russia – can he win it?