Barcelona superstar Messi single-handedly rescued Argentina´s World Cup hopes as the South American giants came from behind to win in Quito.
Romario Ibarra had given Ecuador a shock lead after only 38 seconds but Messi struck twice inside the opening 20 minutes to give Argentina the lead before adding a third in the second half.
It was a vintage display from Messi, delivering for Argentina when it mattered most to erase fears that the two-time champions might not qualify for next year´s finals in Russia.
Argentina had got off to a disastrous start, conceding a goal in the opening minute as Ecuador took full advantage of hesitancy in the visiting side´s defensive ranks.
Argentina stalwart Javier Mascherano failed to deal with a speculative long ball forward from Dario Aimar, directing a headed clearance into the path of Romario Ibarra.
Ibarra calmly headed to team-mate Roberto Ordones who then steered a header back to Ibarra for the Universidad Catolica midfielder.
It was the worst possible start for a shell-shocked Argentina, who had kicked off chasing their first victory in the Ecuadoran capital since 2001.
For a while Argentina struggled to get to grips with a vibrant Ecuador, who looked to push forward at every opportunity.
But it was not long before Messi stamped his authority on proceedings, hauling his team back into the contest with a composed opening goal.
The equaliser came in the 12th minute when Messi darted forward and quickly released Angel Di Maria down the left.
The Paris Saint-Germain attacker duly returned the favour as Messi raced into the penalty area to poke home a low finish past Maximo Banguera.
Eight minutes later and Messi had fired Argentina into the lead with another virtuoso strike.
When a loose ball fell kindly to the 30-year-old´s feet just outside the area, Messi accelerated past a clutch of yellow shirts and uncorked a thunderous left-foot shot which flew into the top corner.
Messi´s double-blast galvanised Argentina, who gradually grew in confidence through the remainder of the half, carefully maintaining possession to frustrate Ecuador´s hopes of regaining the initiative.
Messi then completed his hat-trick with the best goal of the night in the Read More Story.