Hat-trick hero Lionel Messi believes Argentina deserve to go to Russia next summer after he saved their World Cup dreams.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side beat Ecuador 3-1 in their final must-win qualifier on Wednesday despite going behind to Romario Ibarra’s first-minute goal.
But Barcelona’s Messi, who came out of a brief international retirement last year, scored three times to send Argentina to next year’s tournament after they eventually finished third in South American qualifying.
“We deserve to be there after what we have gone through during qualifying,” Messi told Marca. “We did not deserve to miss out and our place at the tournament is merited.
“Of course things were made even more difficult for us when we went a goal behind.
“It isn’t easy to play here with the unique conditions (the high altitude in Quito) but fortunately for us everything went perfectly. It was important for us that everything went well and when everybody is together in the same direction, it is a lot easier for us.”
Argentina were in real danger of failing to reach the World Cup after beginning the day in sixth place and out of the play-off spots.
‘I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi,” boss Sampaoli told a press conference.