Lionel Messi: A World Cup without Argentina 'would have been crazy'
Lionel Messi said "it would have been crazy a World Cup without Argentina" after his dramatic hat trick secured the nation's qualification for the tournament.
Argentina went into Tuesday's game against Ecuador likely needing a result to book their flight to Russia next summer, and Messi helped them overcome an early deficit to rally for victory, scoring twice before half-time and adding his third after the break to seal the win.
After the match, Messi, who along with the rest of Argentina's players had boycotted the media since November 2016 as a protest against perceived mistreatment, said he had feared the worst when his side went behind, but now they could celebrate qualification.
"Fortunately everything went well and we are into the World Cup," he said. "We are calm now after achieving the main goal -- that is the most important thing. All this time that we were away from the press, the fans helped us to be closer.
"It would have been crazy a World Cup without Argentina, this group didn't deserve it. The team will change, will grow a lot and will come out stronger.
"It was a relief because we were in a tough spot. We got ourselves into this mess. It was not easy to play here, a lot of things happen from my mind when the 0-1 came, but the group overcame the situation very well and was quick to take the lead.
"There was some fear of missing the World Cup. We let pass a lot of opportunities and we had to decide our future in this game. We had to qualify, now it's time to enjoy."
Meanwhile, Javier Mascherano has asked Argetina fans for a fresh start following their qualification for the World Cup.
"The message is to rebuild so that we can all think about what happened," he told TYC Sports. "We never looked for excuses. There were many things that while not being done on purpose, ended up affecting the team.
"As players of the national team we went through a lot. I don't want to sound like a victim, but we need to analyse it, not just for this generation but for the next one. At some point, these players will leave and we have the duty to leave something behind for those that are next.
"The reality is that we all want to move forward together, and that Argentina does not have the need to go through a similar situation. We want this to be a starting point."
Mascherano hailed Barcelona teammate Messi for his heroics.
Messi's hat trick took him to 21 career CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying goals, breaking Hernan Crespo's record of 19, with Uruguay's Luis Suarez also matching him with a brace on Tuesday against Bolivia.
"Leo proved yet again that he owns this game," Mascherano said. "When you are like him, you have that capacity, there's no context for him. From now on, it's not just a case of enjoying it, but helping him."
The Argentina players celebrated in the changing room after the game in Quito to leave behind a tense week following Thursday's goalless draw at home against Peru that had put their qualifying campaign in jeopardy, with the side having failed to win in their previous four games.
"We knew that this could have been the end of the story for many of us," Mascherano said. "Thanks to God it wasn't the case. I hope that we can analyse the past three years and rebuild Argentinian football.
"We now need to enjoy ourselves and relax. We need to think about the next seven or eight months that we have ahead to arrive in Russia in the best form and make it a hit."
Mascherano, who has made 139 appearances for Argentina since his debut in 2003, says he will retire after the World Cup.
"I will try to get to Russia, although I'm not the one that decides, it's the national team coach [Jorge Sampaoli]," the 33-year-old said. "But that will be the end, it's very clear to me."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.