Messi the hero as Argentina avoids disaster to nab World Cup berth

Football’s biggest stage will feature its brightest star.

After a shocking start Tuesday saw host Ecuador take the lead inside of a minute, Lionel Messi grabbed the crucial clash by the scruff of its neck and bagged an eight-minute brace to hand Argentina an important lead.

Related – Watch: When Argentina needed a saviour, Messi delivered

La Albiceleste would not surrender that advantage, and with the victory, Messi and Co. finish third in CONMEBOL standings to book an automatic berth for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with the 3-1 result.

Argentina entered the day on the outside looking in. Sitting sixth, and with the top-four sides guaranteed a spot and the fifth-placed nation set for an intercontinental play-off date with New Zealand, Jorge Sampaoli’s charges knew a win would all but cement a spot in Russia.

Despite a spirited start to the second half where the visitor had trouble dealing with Ecuador’s attacks, the host could not find the back of the net for a second time on a brisk night in Quito. Just as the match hit a lull, Messi scored a third courtesy of an audacious chip in the 62nd minute …read more