If Lionel Messi had not walked back his retirement from international soccer that he announced in July 2016, it is highly unlikely that Argentina would have made it their 12th consecutive appearance at the World Cup Final.
Without Messi in the line-up Argentina earned just 7 points from 8 games – an average that would have left the 2-time World Champions 8th out of 10 countries in CONMEBOL qualifying over 18 games.
When Messi started, Argentina took 21 points from 10 games - an average that would have placed La Albiceleste comfortably in second place just Brazil 3 points behind Brazil.
Even with Messi’s rethink, Argentina still came within one loss of failing to move on.
It came down to playing Ecuador away and at altitude the final game. Ecuador scored early but two first-half goals by Messi and another in the second half saw Argentina through to Russia 2018.