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Ecuador 1 Argentina 3
11 October 2017, 09:55 | Randolph Howard
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Outside of the CONMEBOL qualification places and on the brink of elimination, Messi scored three goals as Argentina overcame Ecuador 3-1 in Quito and secured a berth at Russian Federation 2018 on Tuesday.
Argentina drew with Peru on Friday to leave them a point off the top four.
New Zealand fans were hoping it might be fourth ranked Argentina in a home and away play off as that would have brought Lionel Messi to Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Ecuador has been eliminated from contention after making the World Cup last time around. And it was only 38 seconds into the match.
A bad omen is that Argentina began their qualifying campaign with a shock 2-0 home loss to Ecuador two years ago when they were coached by Argentine Gustavo Quinteros.
Seven minutes later, the Argentine was on hand again, this time with a powerful left-footed drive to the top left corner of the post to give his side the lead.
The No10 hit a brace in the first half in Quito and capped off a stellar performance as he completed his hat-trick with a stunning chip over keeper Maximo Banguera just after the hour mark.
Argentina have won just one game in Ecuador since 1960. They were loud the whole game.
Ecuador themselves enjoyed slightly better possession but failed to make the most out of nine attempts.
Argentina have to win. They are joined by Brazil (1st), Uruguay (2nd) and Colombia (4th). If Chile doesn't get a point, whichever team loses by less (or Chile if it's equal), takes fifth place. Brazil have already qualified for Russian Federation on 38 points, while Uruguay (28) need just a draw from their final game against Bolivia to advance. Paulinho opened the scoring in the 55th minute, which was followed by Jesus strikes in the 57th and 90+3rd minutes. That could drop Uruguay into a one or two-way tie for the final spot, but with a plus-10 goal difference compared to the plus-one for Peru and Argentina, it would take a dramatic swing to see Uruguay fall all the way to fifth. Even a draw could get an automatic berth but only if Colombia beats Peru, Paraguay fails to beat Venezuela, and Chile loses to Brazil by at least two goals.
Paolo Guerrero scored in the 74th minute in Lima after James Rodriguez was on target for Colombia. And if the US and only one of those rivals were beaten, the Americans would have finished fourth and advanced to a playoff next month against Australia.
France also was assured to advance with three points, and beat visiting Belarus 2-1.
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