A LIONEL Messi hat-trick ensured Argentina came from behind to win in Ecuador and avoid missing a FIFA World Cup final for the first time since 1970.
The 2014 runners up began the day sixth in the group and needing a top-four place to qualify automatically.
They made a terrible start in Quito, losing a goal inside 38 seconds, but fought back with Messi to the fore.
The Barcelona forward equalised in the high-altitude Ecuadorian capital after 12 minutes when he linked up with Paris St-Germain midfielder Angel di Maria and stabbed home.
The five-time world player of the year’s second goal came eight minutes later with a powerful strike from the edge of the area before a fine solo goal in the second half sealed the victory and Argentina’s passage to Russia.
In another development, European champions Portugal beat Switzerland in Lisbon to finish top of European Qualifying Group B and reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
A draw or a loss would have left Portugal in the play-offs but an own goal from Johan Djourou and a goal from Andre Silva took Portugal through.
France beat Belarus 2-1 to win Group A, with Sweden finishing second despite losing 2-0 to the Netherlands.
The Dutch, who finished third in the 2014 World Cup, are eliminated.
They needed a seven-goal win to nudge Sweden out of the play-offs but could not add to the two first-half goals scored by Arjen Robben, who retired from international football after the game.
The United States failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after losing to Trinidad & Tobago and a controversial goal for Panama.
The US started the night in the third qualifying place but ended up fifth after losing 2-1.
Panama jumped up to third after an 88th-minute winner against Costa Rica to reach their first World Cup finals. – BBC Sports
– Oct 11, 2017 @ 10:54 GMT /