• Lionel Messi in action for Argentina (Getty Images)
Hat-trick hero Lionel Messi said it would have been "crazy" if Argentina did not qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after he guided the two-time champions to next year's tournament.
Source:
Omnisport
11 Oct 2017 - 10:51 PM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2017 - 10:51 PM

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 Wednesday (AEDT).

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.

Magical Messi hat-trick seals World Cup qualification for Argentina
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.

"There was always the fear of coming here to play. Luckily, we could react and we managed to play well," Messi said.

"We were calm, we achieved the goal and that is the most important thing. Thanks to God, we fulfilled the objective.

"It would have been crazy not to be in the World Cup. The group deserved to qualify.

"There has been criticism despite having played three consecutive finals and today was an important day for all, especially for those who have been here longer."

I'm lucky to watch Messi up close, says Dybala
Argentina attacker Paulo Dybala described himself as "lucky" to be able to see the magic of Lionel Messi up close after his nation qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

"We were away from the press for a while and the people. I think it served to get us closer. If we all go hand in hand, everything will be easier," he said.

"It was unfair what happened in the World Cup and the two Copa Americas. We ended up suffering to enter this World Cup and hopefully we will get it once and for all.

"Enjoy the qualification and prepare little by little. The team will change, there will be another and it will grow."