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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Lionel Messi urges Argentina to 'unite' after inspiring win over Ecuador to book World Cup place

A turbulent qualifying campaign came to a positive end for Argentina and they have their captain to thank for their place in Russia.

Lionel Messi has said it is “important we all unite” after guiding Argentina to the 2018 World Cup with a hat-trick against Ecuador on Tuesday.

Argentina needed to win in Quito to guarantee their place in Russia next summer, and their bid got off to the worst possible start after conceding after just 38 seconds through Romario Ibarra.

However, Messi responded by scoring twice inside the opening 20 minutes before adding a third in the second half.

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The victory ensured Argentina finish third in the South America qualifying table and will join Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia at the World Cup next year. Fifth-placed Peru face a two-legged play-off against New Zealand to reach Russia.

While it was a time for celebration for Argentina, Messi urged players and fans to band together if they are to be successful at the World Cup after a turbulent qualifying campaign.

“It is important we all unite, the team as well as fans,” Messi, 31, said. “If we go hand in hand it will be much easier.

“Today was an important day for all of us. Luckily we reacted quickly to the Ecuador goal. We fought and suffered. We could not miss going to the World Cup.”

Having once again relied on their captain, Argentina will be thankful Messi decided to reverse his decision to retire from international football following the defeat to Chile in the Copa America final in June last year.

Messi insists he is committed to his national team, who he will hope to lead one step further than their last World Cup effort when they finished runners-up to Germany in Brazil.

“Every time I am selected I try to give my best, both for myself and the group,” Messi said.

Meanwhile, Javier Mascherano said Argentina must learn from their qualifying errors if they want to build for the future.

“Together we can pull forward,” he said. “Argentina has to change, not only us but also the next generation. We must analyse what has happened so far and try to improve."