(Soccer World Cup qualifiers) Messi treble saves ArgentinaSports | Oct 11, 2017 10:30
The two-time champions _ and losing finalists three years ago in Brazil _ rode Messi's hat trick in the thin air of the Andes and rallied for a 3-1 win over Ecuador, who took a surprising lead in the first minute.
The top four teams in South America get automatic berths to Russia. Brazil have 41 points and clinched months ago. The other three advancing yesterday went in this order: Uruguay (31), Argentina (28) and Colombia (27).
Uruguay beat Bolivia 4-2, Argentina won 3-1, Colombia drew 1-1 with Peru and last-place Venezuela beat Paraguay 1-0.
Peru (26) placed fifth and will keep alive their bid for a first World Cup appearance since 1982 after edging Chile for the South American spot in the inter-continental playoff next month against Oceania representative New Zealand.
On a dramatic last day of continental qualifying tournaments, six South American teams _ separated by only four points over 17 matches _ had shots at the World Cup entering play.
Chile and Paraguay missed out at the last moment. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador were already out of contention.
Chile lost 3-0 to Brazil, the 12th straight unbeaten qualifying game for Brazil coach Tite. Venezuela defeated Paraguay 1-0.
There was a major shock in CONCACAF qualifying for teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean, with the U.S. slipping from third spot to fifth with a loss in Trinidad and missing out on the World Cup.
It looked easy for Argentina. But it wasn't, particularly after Romario Ibarra gave Ecuador a 1-0 lead in the first minute.
Messi scored off a pass from Angel di Maria in the 12th, left-footing home from close range. In the 20th, Di Maria slipped a pass through to Messi, who drove the ball into the top corner from 15 yards.
Messi got his third in the 62nd, weighting an 18-yard shot that went in just over the fingers of Ecuador keeper Maximo Banguera.-AP