Ahead of a tense final round of matches in the South American qualifiers for Russia 2018, with Brazil’s place at the World Cup finals already guaranteed, three of the four guaranteed spots and the fifth-place play-off position were all still up for grabs. The stage was set, and one final round of games would bring either celebration or bitter disappointment at the final whistle.
The biggest question mark of all was the perilous position of Argentina, two-time World Cup winners who most observers would have had nailed on for a pretty straightforward run to the World Cup, alongside their biggest rivals, Brazil.
However, the CONMEBOL group can often prove to be anything but predictable and heading into the final round of games on the back of three draws and a defeat, fans of La Albiceleste were contemplating the very real prospect their team wouldn’t be heading to Russia next year. Fans of football in general were also trying to imagine a World Cup without one of the biggest stars in the game: Lionel Messi.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 11, 2017
Considered the best player in the modern game, with only Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo coming anywhere close to being mentioned in the same breath, Argentine maestro Messi is regarded as untouchable when it comes to the pureness of his natural talent. He’s a legend in his own lifetime, with many believing him to be the greatest footballer in the history of the game.
Already leading the scoring charts in Spain’s La Liga with Barcelona with a phenomenal 11 goals in just 7 outings, MrGreen Sportsbook currently has the Argentine with notable odds of 1/16 to remain in pole position for goals at the end of the 2017/18 campaign. Such an impressive start would indicate that this could be another record breaking season.
The only doubts regarding Messi and his individual importance have come when representing his national team. For many, Argentine legend Diego Maradona will always be considered the best player to have graced a football pitch, simply because his brilliance single-handedly led his country to World Cup triumphs. In comparison, Messi’s achievements on the biggest world stage pale into insignificance.
After announcing his decision to retire from international football following the Copa America disappointment of 2016, many believed Messi would never achieve the dream of World Cup glory. An outpouring of support for the player quickly followed and just days later, he announced he would participate in qualification.
The road has most certainly been a bumpy one through the qualifiers for Argentina. Doubts lingered over their most influential player and with the prospect of missing out on the World Cup a grim reality, it needed something special from Messi. But as they always say: Cometh the hour, cometh the man!
3-1 up 🎩🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/rbnRyxR1ou
— #WCQ ⚽️🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) October 11, 2017
Argentina needed to win in Quito against Ecuador, so when the hosts took the lead after 40 seconds, the alarm bells were already ringing. Not in the mind of Messi, however, who led the response from his team in spectacular fashion. The equalizer came in the 11th minute, then he edged his side ahead in the 18th minute. The icing on the cake came in the 62nd minute and now there were no doubts. Messi had just scored his first ever World Cup qualifying hat-trick and single-handedly booked his team’s ticket to Russia!
Trying to imagine a World Cup without Messi playing a prominent role is like trying to imagine playing the game without the ball itself. As for the magical maestro himself, this is just another step on his remarkable footballing journey. Rather than dwell on his scoring feat, his final message after the match was simple: ‘We did what we had to do. It’s Argentina’s obligation to qualify every time. Now we have to get ready for the World Cup.’’