Lionel Messi was the hero of the hour for Argentina on Tuesday as he hit a hat-trick against Ecuador in the final round of matches in South American qualifying to fire them to the world cup next summer.

The Barcelona talisman's terrific solo showing came after the Albicelestes conceded after just 37 seconds, and sent the watching world into a frenzy.

Argentina had been in severe danger of missing out on going to the finals - to be hosted in Russia next summer - for the first time since 1970 after starting the night in 6th in the CONMEBOL table. But thanks to Messi's magic they finished third and will now join Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia at the tournament in eight months' time, with Peru in the play-off and Chile missing out altogether.

Before the game fans had been clamouring for Argentina to turn things around in order to see Messi feature at the world's most prestigious football tournament, and widespread adulation poured in for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner once the dust had settled.

Post-match reaction

Messi's hat-trick was another reminder that we are all in the midst of a footballing genius and arguably the greatest to have ever graced the game.

The diminutive forward has actually had his critics over the years where playing for his national side has been concerned, but Tuesday night saw him more than deliver when his country needed him the most, and he will no doubt be craving a much better collective showing at the finals than throughout their stuttering qualifying campaign.

Key footballing figures flocked to Twitter after the game, and were queuing up to pay tribute to Messi. Former England striker #Gary Lineker was particularly caught up in the emotion of it all and tweeted: "He's only gone and scored a hat-trick.

If Messi is not the GOAT then I'm a f****** chicken."

The Champions League's official Twitter account was one of many to hype up the star following his excellent performance in Quito, writing: "When Argentina needed a hero. UCL and World Cup double in 2018?"

Messi will feature in Russia as a host of stars miss out

Messi will be on the plane to Russia next summer much to the relief of most football fans, but the tournament will be without a number of big names after some nations' shocking qualifying campaigns culminated in failure.

Argentina's success came at the expense of Chile, whose star duo Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will be particularly gutted to miss the tournament.

Wales fell to the Republic of Ireland in their final match meaning Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale will also be absent from the tournament next summer.

The Netherlands missed out and therefore the likes of Arjen Robben and Virgil van Dijk will not be present, and neither will Peru's David Alaba, the USA's Christian Pulisic, Guinea's Naby Keita, Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Slovenia's Jan Oblak, Ecuador's Antonio Valencia or Bosnian duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko.