By Jose M. Romero
Lionel Messi and and Gonzalo Higuain scored first-half goals for Argentina, and the South American power held on for a 2-1 World Cup qualifier win over Chile in Santiago, Chile Tuesday night.
Argentina has 20 points from nine matches in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying to lead the eight-team table. Brazil, which crushed Japan 4-0 in a friendly in Poland on Tuesday, does not have to qualify since it is the 2014 host team.
Higuain, a Real Madrid forward, left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Felipe Gutierrez scored for Chile in the 90th minute, but Chile didn’t have enough time to salvage a point. Chile (12 points) is now tied for the fourth and final automatic qualification spot in CONMEBOL, and qualifying resumes in March of next year.
In other CONMEBOL action….
BOLIVIA 4, Uruguay 1
Carlos Saucedo recorded a hat trick in Bolivia’s 4-1 rout of struggling Uruguay Tuesday in La Paz.
Saucedo, a 33-year-old forward making his World Cup qualifying debut, scored in the 6th, 50th and 54th minutes to lead Bolivia, which is trying get into the top four for qualifying but has only eight points from nine matches.
Luis Suarez scored Uruguay’s lone goal after the match was long decided.
VENEZUELA 1, ECUADOR 1
The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in Puerto La Cruz, Ven., on Tuesday, with first-half goals coming from Juan Arango in the sixth minute for La Vinotinto and Segundo Castillo in the 22nd minute for Ecuador.
Ecuador trails Argentina in second place in the qualifying standings with 17 points from nine matches. Venezuela is tied for fourth but needs points to assure itself a top-four automatic qualifier position.
The fifth-place team from CONMEBOL must go through a play-in series to get to the World Cup.
PARAGUAY 1, PERU 0
At home in Asuncion, Paraguay got a much-needed three points as it tries to rise out of the eighth and last spot in the region. Pablo Aguilar scored the only goal of the match in the 52nd minute.
Paraguay has just seven points from nine matches. Peru isn’t faring much better at eight points.
What are your thoughts on the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying? Who will be in your top four?