Messi lifts Argentina

November 16, 2016
Argentina's Lionel Messi dribbles past Colombia's Eder Balanta during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match in San Juan, Argentina yesterday. Argentina won 3-0. Messi scored and provided the assists for the other two goals.

SAO PAULO (AP):

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

After a lacklustre 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 last night. He scored the first with a breathtaking free kick, gave two assists, dribbled through Colombia's defence several times and coordinated his teammates on the pitch.

 

Automatic qualifying

 

Argentina are 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 are now fourth, with 20 points, and Uruguay remained second with 23.

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

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

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

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