Tonight couldn’t have started any worse for Argentina. On the outside looking in at the beginning of the final day of World Cup qualification, they needed a win in Ecuador to at least keep their hopes alive. But within the first minute, the home side delivered a stunning blow, taking a very quick, potentially devastating 1-0 lead.
That goal left Argentina, who had only scored 16 goals in 17 games of qualifying, with the task of getting at least two on the road to avoid national despair and humiliation. Luckily for them, however, when you have the GOAT, anything is within reach. All it took was 12 minutes for Lionel Messi to erase the initial damage, softly tapping home a close-range shot off an Ángel Di María assist.
The inevitable next goal was 100 percent Messi magic, and it came just eight minutes later, when he stole the ball in a dangerous area, took just one touch to set himself, then fired off an unstoppable shot.
Messi saved the best for last, though. In the second half, just to confirm a win, Lionel took on a defender, created space, then lofted a ball with perfect touch over the keeper and into the net. It was the kind of genius control that only Messi can provide, and it confirmed what a crime it would be if he were absent from his sport’s greatest stage.
Argentina have mostly been playing like garbage, but luckily, Leo Messi is not and never will be garbage. Thanks to him, Argentina still finish third in South American qualifying, and Messi is still going to the World Cup. Everything is as it should be.