It seems unthinkable, but there is very real chance Lionel Messi will not be at next summer's World Cup in Russian Federation. Those are just some of the superlatives used by South American media outlets to describe Lionel Messi after the Barcelona forward nearly single-handedly guaranteed Argentina a place in next year's football World Cup.
Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia have qualified for next year's World Cup after a dramatic last round of South American matches that also saw Peru clinch a spot in the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.
"It is important we all unite, the team as well as fans", Messi, 31, said.
With Argentina's qualifying fate hanging in the balance, the superstar took control in Tuesday's CONMEBOL contest at Ecuador and spearheaded a 3-1 victory.
Di Stefano scored more than 300 goals for Real Madrid, won 15 titles and claimed the prestigious Ballon d'Or award twice in an outstanding career.
Messi pocketed his third goal just after the hour mark, chipping into the top left corner from the edge of the box while being dragged to the ground.
Needing a victory to book a ticket to Russia, Paraguay had their hopes dashed by an 84th-minute strike from 19-year-old Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera.
Ecuador shocked the visitors in the first minute of the match through Romario Ibarra, who found the back of the Argentina net following a clever one-two in the away side's box.
While Messi scored his first ever hat-trick goals in 2007 for FC Barcelona, his first global Hatrick came against Switzerland in a friendly match.
With Argentina facing the dire possibility of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970, their brilliant captain delivered when it matter most with three goals in the rarefied air of Quito.
But prior to the match, and even during, social media was awash with messages such as "the World Cup needs Messi" or "the World Cup will not be the same without Messi". His second spectacular hat-trick performance was also witnessed in 2012 in the Argentina vs Brazil match played on June 9, 2012.
Speaking after Argentina's victory and his personal heroics, Messi seemed just happy to have gotten the job done. Honduras finished fourth on goal difference and goes to the playoff.
Messi then completed his hat-trick with a sublime chip in the 62nd minute to make it 3-1. Fortunately for La Albiceleste, because Colombia and Peru, the two teams in front of them, play each other, they still control their own destiny. There is the chance that both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could miss out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup although both scenarios seem nearly impossible to imagine they are a possibility.
Moreover, Argentina face their moment of truth after a series of uninspiring performances that has have left the rest of the footballing world scratching its head at how a squad bristling with so much attacking talent has found scoring so hard.
Peru knows one thing: Win at home against Colombia and they're in the World Cup for the first time since 1982.