Dybala: I'm lucky to watch Messi up close

Lionel Messi's latest magical display impressed Argentina team-mate Paulo Dybala, who lauded the star forward.

Argentina attacker Paulo Dybala described himself as "lucky" to be able to see the magic of Lionel Messi up close after his nation reached the World Cup.

A sublime hat-trick from Messi saw Argentina to a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Ecuador in Quito on Tuesday.

Having looked in danger of missing out on Russia 2018, the result saw Jorge Sampaoli's men finish third in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Dybala, who was an unused substitute, was delighted to see Messi's incredible display.

"I am lucky to see him and have him so close," the Juventus star said, via the team's Twitter account.

The win was just Argentina's seventh in qualifying, and they finished a distant 13 points behind group winners Brazil.

Javier Mascherano urged his side to search for improvement before next year's showpiece event.


Messi: It would've been crazy if Argentina missed World Cup

There was joy and relief for Lionel Messi, whose three goals sent Argentina through to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hat-trick hero Lionel Messi said it would have been "crazy" if Argentina did not qualify for the World Cup after he guided the two-time champions to next year's tournament.

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 Russia 2018 on Tuesday.

Occupying sixth position prior to kick-off, Argentina's hopes of at least claiming a play-off spot were dealt a major blow when they conceded after just 38 seconds.

But five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi saved the day, scoring twice in the first half and again just past the hour-mark to see Argentina – runners-up in 2014 – to their 12th successive World Cup.


Football owed hat-trick hero Messi the World Cup - Sampaoli

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. 


BREAKING NEWS: Messi hat-trick sees Argentina qualify for World Cup

Despite an unconvincing qualifying campaign, Argentina booked a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Argentina sealed a place in Russia, qualifying for the World Cup on a dramatic final matchday in CONMEBOL qualifying on Tuesday.


Ecuador 1 Argentina 3: Magical Messi hat-trick seals World Cup qualification

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.


Argentina's qualifying struggles force U2 gig delay

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.


Messi can save Argentina – Menotti

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.


Sampaoli calls for Argentina to match 'incredible' Messi

As Argentina eye a place at the 2018 World Cup with a win over Ecuador, coach Jorge Sampaoli lauded Lionel Messi.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli praised the "incredible" Lionel Messi, challenging his team to reach the star's level when they face Ecuador.

Sampaoli's men need a win in the World Cup qualifier in Quito on Tuesday as they look to salvage a place at Russia 2018.

Messi has scored four goals in nine qualifiers this campaign, but the last of those came in March, when Edgardo Bauza was still in charge.

However, Sampaoli praised the Barcelona star and said it was up to the 30-year-old's team-mates to reach his level.

"In these three games, I led an incredible Messi – committed, pressing," he told a news conference on Monday.

"If we are at Messi's level, the match will go very well."

Sampaoli said he still had some doubts over who would start, while he played down the significance of the altitude in Quito.


Brazil 2 Ecuador 0: Barca target Coutinho and Paulinho inspire win

Philippe Coutinho and potential Barcelona team-mate Paulinho inspired Brazil to victory over Ecuador in Porto Alegre.

Barcelona target Philippe Coutinho came off the bench and scored as Brazil defeated Ecuador 2-0 to seal their position as winners of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying section.

Coutinho was named on the bench for Thursday's qualifier in Porto Alegre having not played for Liverpool this season due to a back problem and illness amid ongoing speculation linking him with Barca.

But the Liverpool star put uncertainty surrounding his future aside to double Brazil's lead with 14 minutes remaining after a stunning one-two with team-mate Gabriel Jesus.

It was a sight to excite Barca fans after new signing Paulinho broke Ecuador's stubborn resistance seven minutes earlier – his fourth goal in four internationals.


Ecuador 0 Colombia 2: James the star as Pekerman's men leapfrog Argentina

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.


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