Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli was full of praise and indebted to hat-trick hero Lionel Messi on Tuesday.
Jorge Sampaoli said Lionel Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, football owed it to the five-time Ballon d'Or winner after he led the South American giants to Russia 2018.
Messi was Argentina's saviour on Tuesday, his stunning hat-trick securing a 3-1 victory over Ecuador and World Cup qualification, after Sampaoli's men had started the day outside of the CONMEBOL qualifying spots in sixth position.
Following three consecutive draws, two-time champions Argentina were in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1970, but captain Messi singlehandedly booked the country's ticket to Russia next year as they finished third.
"Football owed Messi the World Cup," Sampaoli said afterwards.
"I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi.
A three-goal haul from captain Lionel Messi led Argentina to the World Cup following Tuesday's win in Ecuador.
Lionel Messi proved to be Argentina's saviour as his stunning hat-trick secured a 3-1 victory over Ecuador and World Cup qualification for Russia 2018.
Two-time world champions Argentina were in danger of missing the showpiece tournament for the first time since 1970, having dropped to sixth and outside of the qualifying positions following three consecutive draws.
Those fears became real when Ecuador broke the deadlock after just 38 seconds via Romario Ibarra at altitude in Quito on Tuesday.
But Argentina – who reportedly hired a sorcerer to help bring good energy to the team with their World Cup hopes on the line – fought back as captain and five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi singlehandedly booked the country's ticket to Russia next year, becoming the first player to score 20 goals in CONMEBOL qualifying in the process.
U2 have added an extra item to their Joshua Tree Tour schedule in Buenos Aires - the crucial Ecuador v Argentina World Cup qualifier!
Intrigue surrounding Argentina's crucial World Cup qualifier against Ecuador has led to world-famous rock band U2 delaying a scheduled gig in Buenos Aires to allow fans to watch the match.
Heading into the final game of CONMEBOL qualifying Jorge Sampaoli's side sit sixth in the group, outside the qualification places and in danger of missing the 2018 finals.
A win over Ecuador would be enough to secure at least a play-off place, with Peru and Colombia, the two teams above them, playing each other, but defeat would likely mean missing out on the global showpiece for the first time since 1970.
As a result, demand to watch the clash is high, so much so that U2's concert at the Estadio Unico de la Plata has an unscheduled break in proceedings.
Argentina's first World Cup-winning coach, Cesar Luis Menotti, is putting his faith in Lionel Messi ahead of the showdown in Ecuador.
Lionel Messi can be Argentina's saviour in their crucial World Cup qualifier against Ecuador, according to former coach Cesar Luis Menotti.
Jorge Sampaoli's side head into their final match in the South American section with their chances of reaching next year's finals in Russia hanging in the balance.
A win would guarantee at least a place in next month's intercontinental play-off, while it would be enough to claim an automatic spot if Peru beat Colombia or if that match ends in a draw.
Ecuador have lost their last five qualifiers and are already out of contention for the top five, but Argentina, who have drawn three games in a row and scored only one goal in that time, have not won in Quito since 2001.
Colombia beat Ecuador 2-0 in Quito to boost their World Cup hopes, thanks to goals from James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado.
James Rodriguez scored one and set up another as Colombia secured a valuable 2-0 World Cup qualifying win away to 10-man Ecuador on Tuesday.
The Real Madrid man broke the deadlock in Quito before teeing up Juan Cuadrado to double the lead before half-time and the visitors never looked likely to surrender their advantage as Ecuador offered rather meek resistance.
Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa is a notoriously difficult ground for away sides given its altitude of nearly 2,800 metres, with only Brazil and Paraguay able to take points off Ecuador in their last seven home World Cup qualifiers.
But it was Gustavo Quinteros' players who appeared dazed and confused in the first half, with James turning in a Miguel Borja cross before setting up Cuadrado 14 minutes later as the Ecuador defence collapsed.