Lionel Messi’s three goals lifted Argentina into the World Cup on the last day of South American qualifying, keeping the Argentines from missing out for the first time since 1970.
The two-time champions — and runners-up three years ago in Brazil — rode Messi’s hat trick in the thin air of the Andes to defeat Ecuador 3-1, after the home side took a 1-0 lead in the first minute.
The top four teams in South America get automatic berths to next year’s tournament in Russia. Brazil has 41 points and clinched months ago. The other three advancing Tuesday went in this order: Uruguay (31), Argentina (28) and Colombia (27).
Uruguay defeated Bolivia 4-2, Argentina won 3-1, and Colombia drew 1-1 with Peru.
Peru (26) placed fifth after its draw. The fifth-place team in South America qualifies for a playoff next month with Oceania representative New Zealand.
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