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Ecuador 1-3 Argentina: "Where there is Messi, there is hope"


The title of this article is borrowed from Gary Lineker, who last night followed yet another magical showing by Lionel Messi with almost as much passion as any Argentine. Messi has hit 44 hat-tricks in his career - 39 for Barcelona and five for the Albiceleste - but this one will surely stand out.

Messi once again hoists Argentina on his back

When Ecuador went 1-0 up in the opening minute in Quito, the spectre of World Cup elimination loomed large for Argentina. But up stepped Messi to do what he has done so many times. He picked up the team, hoisted it onto his back and dragged La Selección to what will be his fourth finals, where - as things stand - little other than the inspiration he provides can be expected of the Argentines.

Messi celebrates after scoring against Ecuador.
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Messi celebrates after scoring against Ecuador.RODRIGO BUENDIAAFP

The 30-year-old turned the game on its head in a matter of minutes. First, he linked up with Ángel di María, one of the few playing partners he's got left. 1-1. He then drew on his talent for anticipating - and pouncing on - his opponents' errors. 2-1. Later, having made the most of a fine Darío Benedetto decoy run to open up the kind of gap that he exploits like no-one else, his treble was complete.

Many still demand a World Cup winners' medal of Messi...

Messi has scored 49 in 49 games in 2017, has passed 60 goals for Argentina and is now the all-time leading marksman in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifers. Despite having steered Argentina to the final of Brazil 2014 and two Copa Américas pretty much single-handed, there are still observers who demand of him a World Cup winners' medal before crowning him the greatest ever.

It's an argument that's not without justification, I guess; but, at the same time, it feels rather hollow. If you ask me, Lineker has hit the nail on the head: "Where there is Messi, there is hope".


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