Lionel Messi led Argentina to a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia ©Getty Images

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick to guide Argentina to a 3-1 win over Ecuador last night and seal his country's place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Argentina, finalists three years ago in Brazil, found themselves on the cusp of not making the tournament for the first time since Mexico 1970 going into the final round of matches.

They were sixth going into their match against Ecuador and fell behind in the first minute after Romario Ibarra opened the scoring at the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa in Quito.

However, three goals from Barcelona's Messi guaranteed his side one of the three automatic berths still up for grabs in South America.

Uruguay and Colombia also qualified automatically and Peru clinched a play-off spot.

The Uruguayans sealed second place with a 4-2 win over Bolivia at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, while Colombia and Peru played out a 1-1 draw at the Estadio Nacional in Lima to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

Reigning European champions Portugal will also be in Russia after a convincing 2-0 win over Switzerland at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon saw them finish top of Group B in the UEFA qualifying campaign.

France booked their place by beating Belarus 2-1 at the Stade de France in Paris to win Group A but The Netherlands, finalists at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, missed out on a play-off spot on goal difference despite beating Sweden 2-0 at the Amsterdam Arena.

The United States will not be going to Russia next summer after a shock 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva saw them finish fifth in Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football qualifying.

Already-qualified Mexico lost 3-2 to Honduras at Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula.

France sealed a World Cup berth by beating Belarus 2-1 in Paris ©Getty Images
France sealed a World Cup berth by beating Belarus 2-1 in Paris ©Getty Images

A late goal from Panama at the Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City saw them beat Costa Rica 2-1.

Replays later showed that Panama’s first goal did not appear to cross the line but their win was good enough to claim third and qualify automatically

Honduras finished in fourth meaning the US were pushed down to fifth place and they will now miss out on the World Cup finals for the first time since Mexico 1986.

The most recent batch of successful teams join hosts Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, England, Spain, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Iceland, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Poland among the list of qualified nations.

Qualification across the regions continues with the play-offs within each Confederation and inter-Confederation play-offs next month and there is still one round of fixtures to be played in Africa.

Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia currently lead their respective groups with the remaining matches to be played between November 10 and 14.

In the play-offs, first legs are to be played between November 9 and 11 before second legs take place from November 12 to 14.

The European draw is due to take place on October 17.

Seeded teams include Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Denmark while Northern Ireland, Sweden, Republic of Ireland and Greece are all unseeded.

New Zealand face Peru in a play-off for a qualification place and there's also another spot up for grabs between Australia and Honduras.

The Australians moved to within one tie of reaching the World Cup by beating Syria 3-2 on aggregate yesterday.

With the second leg level at 1-1 in extra time, Australian forward Tim Cahill headed a winner at ANZ Stadium to send his team through to the final qualification round.