Argentina topped Colombia both in their encounter and in the standings on Thursday, and you can thank Lionel Messi for that.
Messi scored a spectacular free kick and assisted on two other goals in a convincing 3-0 win over Colombia that helped Argentina climb out of the hole it was in in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. Seeing Messi don the hero’s cape was just what the doctor ordered for La Albiceleste, as the victory pushed the struggling and much-criticized nation into fifth place while dropping Colombia out of the World Cup picture.
Messi may have shone brightly for Argentina, but so too did Alexi Sanchez for Chile. Sanchez bagged a brace and played a part in setting up another strike as Chile came from behind to defeat second-placed Uruguay, 3-1.
The 12th round of South America’s qualifiers was not just about individual performances. Brazil used a strong overall outing to grab a 2-0 road victory over Peru, Ecuador saw three different players find the back of the net in a lopsided win against Venezuela, and an own goal doomed Paraguay to a 1-0 loss against 10-man Bolivia.
Here is a look back at Matchday 12 in CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying and the updated standings:
MESSI LEADS ARGENTINA TO MUCH-NEEDED WIN OVER COLOMBIA
It was the Lionel Messi show in Argentina. Just in time, too.
Argentina saw Messi turn in a splendid performance that included one goal and two assists to cruise past Colombia, 3-0, at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario in San Juan. Messi got his impressive day for La Albiceleste started by scoring the winner off a free kick in the ninth minute that was both jaw-dropping and picture perfect.
He was not done dazzling either. Messi further punished Los Cafeteros by setting up Lucas Pratto and Angel di Maria finishes in the 22nd and 83rd minutes, respectively, to lock up a convincing victory. The home win pushed Argentina into fifth place in the standings while dropping Colombia out of the top half of the table.
SANCHEZ SHINES AS CHILE RALLY PAST URUGUAY
Chile was down a goal early and facing the prospects of slipping out of the World Cup picture. Then, Alexi Sanchez came to the rescue.
Sanchez helped set up an equalizer and bagged a second-half brace to complete a 3-1 Chile comeback against Uruguay at Estadio Nacional in Santiago. Edinson Cavani opened the scoring 16 minutes in with a shot at the near post, but Sanchez played the second-to-last pass on the leveler that Eduardo Vargas found just before halftime.
Sanchez then took things into his own hands, or feet rather, by netting the winner for La Roja at the hour-mark with a strong finish. He then added an impressive insurance goal in the 76th minute that included an immaculate, must-see first touch.
Los Charruas had a chance to make a game out of it late, but Luis Suarez had a penalty kick saved by Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
BRAZIL BEATS PERU TO STAY PERFECT UNDER TITE
Don’t look now, but Brazil is playing more and more like the world heavyweight that everyone expects it to be.
Table-topping Brazil stayed perfect under new head coach Tite by moving to 6-0-0 with a 2-0 road win against a stubborn Peru side. It took O Canarinho until the 57th minute to find the decisive goal through Gabriel Jesus, but that forced Peru to open up and subsequently allowed Renato Augusto to put the game on ice 12 minutes from time.
La Blanquirroja was unable to find the back of the net in front of its fans at Estadio Nacional in Lima, but came close in the fun opening minutes of the match when Andre Carrillo smacked a low shot off the far post. Brazil eventually took control of the game, and Peru was unable to continue going blow for blow.
ECUADOR’S STRONG SECOND HALF TOO MUCH FOR VENEZUELA
On paper, this was going to be an easy game for Ecuador. In reality, it was not. Not until the second half at least.
Ecuador handed Venezuela a 3-0 defeat at Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa in Quito, but all of the tallies did not come until after halftime. Arturo Mina broke the deadlock between the two sides when he finished off a set piece six minutes after the intermission, and that paved the way for a strong second-half showing for La Tricolor.
Still, Venezuela kept itself in the game despite giving up a number of chances in the closing stanza. La Vinotinto ultimately had to push numbers forward to search for the equalizer, and that allowed Ecuador to score twice more through Miller Bolanos and Enner Valencia in the final eight minutes of the game.
10-MAN BOLIVIA TOPS PARAGUAY WITH OWN GOAL
After a rough few weeks on the field and off of it, Bolivia was in need of a moment of joy to help boost morale. Well, La Verde got just that.
A 10-man Bolivia side moved out of the CONMEBOL basement by edging Paraguay, 1-0, at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz. The winner came via an own goal from Gustavo Gomez in the 78th minute, and only after Bolivia centerback Gabriel Valverde was sent off with a second yellow card at the hour-mark.
Gomez had the unfortunate touch that allowed the ball to trickle into the back of Los Guaranies‘ net, but Marcelo Martins played a big part in creating the goal. Martins found space on the left side of the penalty area on the play and got near the endline before sending in a low cross towards the middle that Gomez failed to clear.
STANDINGS (ROUND 12)
1. Brazil (27 points | 8-1-3 | 28 Goals For | 9 Goals Against)
2. Uruguay (23 points | 7-3-2 | 24 Goals For | 11 Goals Against)
3. Ecuador (20 points | 6-4-2 | 22 Goals For | 16 Goals Against)
4. Chile (20 points | 6-4-2 | 21 Goals For | 17 Goals Against)
5. Argentina (19 points | 5-3-4 | 14 Goals For | 12 Goals Against)
6. Colombia (18 points | 5-4-3 | 15 Goals For | 15 Goals Against)
7. Paraguay (15 points | 4-5-3 | 11 Goals For | 17 Goals Against)
8. Peru (14 points | 4-6-2 | 18 Goals For | 20 Goals Against)
9. Bolivia (7 points | 2-9-1 | 10 Goals For | 31 Goals Against)
10. Venezuela (5 points | 1-9-2 | 14 Goals For | 29 Goal Against)
What do you think of this round of South American qualifiers? Which teams and players impressed you? How impressive was Messi in leading Argentina? Do you see Colombia missing the World Cup? How good was Sanchez for Chile?
Share your thoughts below.