Lionel Messi treble against Ecuador was enough to take Argentina into the World Cup on Tuesday as South American champions Chile suffered a shock elimination.
The skipper single-handedly resurrected Argentina’s hopes in a 3-1 win over Ecuador in Quito that drew a line under a chaotic campaign that had left the two-time champions in danger of failing to qualify.
The Barcelona superstar scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give the 1986 world champions the lead after Ecuador had stunned the visitors with an opening goal.
Messi then completed his hat-trick, which is the 44th of his dazzling career, with a sublime chip in the second half to seal the victory.
In the other game, the Chileans finished level on points with Peru after losing 3-0 to Brazil.
Argentina’s players celebrate after defeating Ecuador and qualifying for the FIFA 2018 World Cup, in Quito, on October 10, 2017. AFP
A brace from in-form Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus and a goal from Paulinho ousted the Copa America champions.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi announced his resignation following the exit.
“I take full responsibility,” Pizzi told reporters. “We gave everything but it was not enough. I will not continue,” he said.
Peru will now be engaged in a two-leg playoff against New Zealand.
They will be returning to the mundial for the first time since 1982 with a fighting 1-1 draw with Colombia in Lima.
Colombia took the lead through James Rodriguez in the 56th minute before veteran striker Paolo Guerrero equalised in the 74th minute. The result saw Colombia qualify alongside Uruguay, 4-2 winners over Bolivia in Montevideo.