After just 40 seconds of Argentina's deciding World Cup qualification clash with Ecuador in Quito, last night, it appeared that La Albiceleste's hopes of reaching next year's tournament in Russia were in tatters.

Playing at high altitude and with an abysmal previous record in Ecuador, Jorge Sampaoli's men were rocked even further when Renato Ibarra fired the home team into the lead inside the first minute.

Nothing less than a victory would do for Argentina, who came into the match in sixth spot in the CONMEBOL qualification standings, two places outside the automatic qualification spots and one outside a play-off berth.

Fortunately for Sampaoli, he has a bloke by the name of Lionel Messi at his disposal and, with next year's tournament perhaps his last chance to win a World Cup, the five time Ballon d'Or winner set about dragging his country there single handed.

Eleven minutes later and Argentina were level, Messi picking the ball up just inside the Ecuadorian half, playing it out wide to Angel Di Maria before latching onto a return ball in the box to poke home the equaliser.

It only took another eight minutes for Messi to double his and Argentina's tally when he dribbled into the box and unleashed a left-footed thunderbolt into the roof of the net.

And midway through the second half, Barcelona's little genius completed the job wit yet another wonderful solo effort to send his country into third place in their group, ensuring that La Albiceleste didn't miss out on their first World Cup since 1970.

Can the Greatest Of All Time finally deliver the goods at a World Cup, though? Messi and Argentina fell at the final hurdle in Brazil, three years ago. If the pint sized number 10 can repeat this sort of form in Russia, however, who's going to stop him?

Featured Image Credit: PA

Joe Baiamonte

Northerner. Assistant Editor of SPORTbible. Studied Journalism and Broadcasting in a portakabin on a car park of Salford University for three years. Believes football peaked with Serie A in the '90s and strong-arms pro wrestling references into as many articles as possible. Neymar once took 50 euros off me during a game of poker.

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