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Messi's hat-trick lifts Argentina to World Cup

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Ecuador during their 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match at the Atahualpa Olympic Stadium in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. | AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

Lionel Messi's three goals lifted Argentina into the World Cup on the last day of South American qualifying, keeping the Albiceleste from missing out for the first time since 1970.

The two-time champions — and losing finalists 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 Russia. Brazil has 41 points and clinched months ago. The other three advancing Tuesday (Wednesday Manila time) 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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