Argentina endured an anxious build-up to their high-altitude date with destiny in Quito, which began with them in sixth place, out of the qualifying places altogether. The only previous occasion on which the country had missed out on a world finals place was in at Mexico 1970, and it looked as if a second failed qualifying campaign was on the cards when Ecuador took the lead after just 40 seconds. But then Messi appeared, and with him his team-mates.
Thanks to his efforts, the Brazil 2014 runners-up will be making their 17th FIFA World Cup appearance, this after scoring only 19 goals, their second lowest tally since France 1998, when the current home-and-away round-robin league format was adopted. (10 OCT 2017)