Messi lifts Ar­gentina and Sanchez saves Chile

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The re­turn of Lionel Messi to an un­der-pres­sure Ar­gentina team has fi­nally paid off.

Af­ter a lack­lus­ter per­for­mance last week against Brazil last week, the five-time FIFA player of the year win­ner in­spired a 3-0 vic­tory over Colom­bia for the South Amer­i­can World Cup qual­i­fiers on Tues­day. He scored the first with a breath­tak­ing free kick, gave two as­sists, drib­bled through Colom­bia's de­fense sev­eral times and co­or­di­nated his team­mates on the pitch.

Ar­gentina is now in fifth po­si­tion with 19 points af­ter 12 games, with six games to go. Colom­bia dropped to sixth with 18 points.

The first four in South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers have au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tions for the next World Cup and the fifth will be in an in­ter­na­tional play­off for a spot.

The home vic­tory eased some of the pres­sure on coach Edgardo Bauza, who re­ceived the dreaded vote of sup­port from Ar­gentina's foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing the week.

In San­ti­ago, Alexis Sanchez scored twice af­ter re­turn­ing from in­jury to give Chile a 3-1 win over Uruguay. Chile is now fourth, with 20 points, and Uruguay re­mained sec­ond with 23.

Lead­ers Brazil beat eighth place Peru 2-0 in Lima to move closer to se­cur­ing a spot at Rus­sia 2018. Teenage striker Gabriel Je­sus, who will soon move to Manch­ester City, scored his fifth goal in six games for the five-time World Cup cham­pi­ons.

Else­where, third-placed Ecuador beat bot­tom-of-the group Venezuela 3-0 at home and now has 20 points. Venezuela was stuck on five.

Ninth-placed Bo­livia had a 1-0 vic­tory over sev­enth place Paraguay and now has seven points. Paraguay is on 15.

The 13th round of South Amer­i­can World Cup qual­i­fiers will be played in March 2017.

AR­GENTINA 3-0 COLOM­BIA

Messi opened the score with a per­fect free kick to the left of Colom­bia goal­keeper David Ospina, on 9 min­utes.

Only 13 min­utes later, Messi man­aged to drib­ble through the Colom­bian de­fense and cross to striker Lu­cas Pratto, a con­tentious choice by coach Bauza ahead of Ju­ven­tus tar­get­man Gon­zalo Higuain.

Ar­gentina could have scored many more goals in the sec­ond half, with Messi still lead­ing the ef­forts. The third only came at 83 min­utes af­ter the Barcelona star be­gan a play with a back­heel kick. Sec­onds later he stole the ball from a Colom­bia de­fender, cut into the penalty area and put in a smooth low cross he found An­gel Di Maria, who ef­fort­lessly scored.

Colom­bia's coach Jose Pek­er­man said his team clearly felt the ab­sence of two key de­fend­ers: sus­pended Os­car Murillo and in­jured Yerry Mina.

Af­ter the de­feat against Brazil, Messi openly said he was dis­ap­pointed with Ar­gentina's per­for­mance, and used an ex­ple­tive to say the team needed to im­prove to qual­ify for Rus­sia 2018. On Tues­day, with an in­creased box-to-box aware­ness through­out the match, Messi led by ex­am­ple rather than words.

Words were also in short sup­ply af­ter the game. On be­half of the whole team, Messi said no play­ers would speak to the press, in re­sponse to a wave of crit­i­cism in Ar­gen­tinian me­dia.

CHILE 3-1 URUGUAY

Uruguay scored first against Chile, through South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers top goalscorer Edin­son Ca­vani, at 16 min­utes.

But Chile, the Copa Amer­ica cham­pi­ons, re­sponded to pull one of their best wins in the tour­na­ment so far. That was largely thanks to a su­perb per­for­mance by Arse­nal striker Alexis Sanchez, who re­turned from in­jury, scored a brace and is now just one goal short of Marcelo Salas as the top goalscorer ever for La Roja.

The be­gin­ning of the turn­around be­gan with striker Ed­uardo Var­gas nod­ding a cross from the left to level the score in the dy­ing mo­ments of the first half. At 60 min­utes Uruguayan goal­keeper Fer­nando Muslera failed to save a pow­er­ful shot by Sanchez from the edge of the box. At 75, Sanchez scored again, in a smooth fin­ish in front of Muslera.

Uruguay had a chance to make it 3-2, but Chilean goal­keeper Clau­dio Bravo stopped a penalty taken by striker Luis Suarez.

Chile and Uruguay will each carry a ma­jor prob­lem for their next match in South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers, which could be crit­i­cal to both. Chile will not have mid­fielder Ar­turo Vi­dal against Ar­gentina and Uruguay will miss Suarez against Brazil.

PERU 0-2 BRAZIL

Brazil did not need to be at its best in se­cur­ing a 2-0 vic­tory over Peru in Lima; the sixth in a row for the lead­ers of the South Amer­i­can qual­i­fiers un­der new coach Tite.

Af­ter a lack­lus­ter first half, Brazil went ahead in the 57th minute when Peru's de­fense gave the ball away in­side the penalty box to 19-year-old Gabriel Je­sus, who made an easy and calm fin­ish.

In the 77th minute, the Peru­vian de­fense again was at fault, al­low­ing Je­sus to set up mid­fielder Re­nato Au­gusto for an­other sim­ple fin­ish.

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