Coach: Football owes World Cup to Messi
Sampaoli hails skipper's hat-trick for securing Argentina's World Cup berth
Jorge Sampaoli has asked his Argentina players to step up and help Lionel Messi win the World Cup after they claimed a 3-1 comeback victory over Ecuador to qualify for next summer's tournament.
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Ecuador during the World Cup qualifier match in Quito yesterday. Pic/AFP
Messi scored a hat-trick as his country recovered from an early Ecuador strike to claim a place at Russia 2018 and coach Sampaoli believes the Barcelona striker — a five-time Ballon d'Or winner — deserves more than anything to win the showpiece.
Speaking after the game, Sampaoli told a press conference: "I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi. "The nationality of the best player in the world is luckily Argentine. Football, the World Cup, could not be left (the same) without Messi. We had to play with that in mind. As a consequence of that pressure we are stronger now, this qualification will make us stronger to face the future.
"We had the possibility to help him to be in another World Cup. He is the best player in the history of soccer and I'm very excited to be in a group near him." Messi hit a brace in the first half in Quito and capped off a stellar performance as he completed his hat-trick with a stunning chip over goalkeeper Maximo Banguera just after the hour mark.
Romario Ibarra stunned the away fans - and perhaps all of South America — as he slotted home in the opening minute before Argentina fought back. Sampaoli added: "The game became complicated in terms of planning. It became difficult because they scored in the opening minute."
No. of goals Lionel Messi has scored in 122 appearances for Argentina
No. of hat-tricks the Argentine has scored in his career
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