Messi-inspired Argentina beats Chile 2-1 in World Cup qualifier

Argentina conslidated its lead in South America's World Cup qualifying group opening up a up a three-point gap after its' forwards helped script a 2-1 victory over Chile on Tuesday.

The damage was done in the first half with goals from Lionel Messi after 27 minutes and Gonzalo Higuain three minutes later. Chile pulled one back through substitute Felipe Gutierrez in added time at the end of the game.

The win leaves the Argentinians three points clear of Ecuador at the top of the table. Argentina has 20 points atop the standings, three ahead of Ecuador and four up on Colombia. Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela have 12 each, with the top four to qualify for the World Cup and the fifth team to face a further playoff.

Messi has scored three goals over two games in four days, which has yielded six key points for Argentina.

Argentina, Messi
The Argentina team celebrates scoring a goal against Chile. Pic/AFP

''It was a good couple of days for us,'' Messi said. ''Six points against difficult teams like Uruguay and Chile. But when this resumes in March, it will be just as difficult. But obviously six points help us relax.''

Messi has 31 goals for Argentina, two behind Diego Maradona on Argentina's career scoring list. Gabriel Batistuta leads the all-time list with 54.

The Barcelona star has 12 goals in eight games this year for Argentina, the main reason that the South Americans are looking as one of early favorites to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"We have forwards of huge standing who normally never forgive (mistakes). Argentina were sharper with their finishing," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella told reporters.

"We knew Chile would take the ball from us a lot and we had to be very concentrated in defence."

Meanwhile, Copa America champions Uruguay's alarming away form continued on Tuesday as they lost for the third successive time, hammered 4-1 by Bolivia at altitude in La Paz.

A hat-trick by Carlos Saucedo and a Gualberto Mojica goal gave the hosts a 4-0 lead, with the Uruguayans sole response a goal nine minutes from time by Liverpool striker Luis Suarez in a game played 3,600 metres above sea level.

The defeat - which follows a 4-0 thrashing by Colombia and a 3-0 defeat by Argentina last Friday - saw them drop to fifth spot in the table.

Venezuela moved above them into the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot for the finals with a 1-1 home draw with Ecuador.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez refused to offer as an excuse the fact his side were missing three of their first choice defenders, captain Diego Lugano, Diego Godin and Martin Caceres who were all suspended.

Instead the coach, who guided Uruguay to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals and then to the Copa America title last year, said that they had to arrest this slump before they play their next qualifier against Paraguay next March.

"Bolivia were very good and deserved to win," said Tabarez.

"We have to get out of this situation and we need to work hard on the solution, because obviously things are not good for us at the moment, it is not something we are used to for we have enjoyed some great moments together."

However, the 65-year-old - nicknamed 'The Teacher' for his love of citing literature to the players - said they had to pull themselves together if they are to qualify for the finals in Brazil in two years time.

"What we need to do now is to work on ensuring we make the finals by being in the top five (the fifth placed team go into a play-off) when qualifying is over," he said.

His Bolivian counterpart Xabier Azkargorta said he could dream again of reaching the finals, as victory took them onto eight points with seven matches remaining.

"This victory opens up the possibility of qualifying," he said.

"There are 21 points still available to us. We will fight as hard as we can for those points, we will battle all the way and we will endeavour to get better and better than we have been to succeed." 

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