Messi and Falcao lead way in South American qualifiers
Lionel Messi kept Argentina top of the World Cup qualifiers in South America with a masterful two-goal performance in their 3-0 home victory over Uruguay on Friday.
Messi took his tally in the qualifiers to six with a brilliant free kick as Argentina continued their progression after a wobbly start where they were defeated in Venezuela and held to a draw at home to Bolivia.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has seen his side pick up 13 points in five matches since, looking more balanced with each match and improving in defence behind a quality attack featuring Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria.
“We have very good players who had an excellent match, they played like a team,” Sabella told reporters, adding there are no adequate words to describe Messi.
“The Spanish Royal Academy (which governs the language) must search for a new adjective for Messi,” he said.
Argentina beat Colombia in November to start their resurgence, but it was also a key match for the defeated side.
Colombia sacked Leonel Alvarez after the loss, replacing him with Argentina’s 2006 World Cup coach Jose Pekerman, whose revived side have won their last three matches in style scoring nine goals.
Radamel Falcao scored both goals for a tally of five overall as an impressive Colombia team beat Paraguay 2-0, while Felipe Caicedo also bagged a brace in Ecuador’s 3-1 home win over Chile.
Colombia and Ecuador, coached by Colombian Reinaldo Rueda who steered Honduras to the last World Cup finals, are one point behind Argentina in second and third place.
Pekerman warned, however, that Colombia could not rest on their laurels and there was a hard slog ahead to stay in the qualifying berths.
“A very hard 2013 awaits us when all the teams will fight, like Paraguay fought, to retain their chances... we haven’t won anything yet,” said Pekerman, whose side have a bye in the next round of qualifiers on Tuesday.
“These points get you closer (to the finals) but they don’t assure you of anything, you have to keep adding.”
Uruguay are fourth, five points off the pace at the halfway stage in the nine-nation, 16-match campaign.
Chile are fifth level on points with Uruguay and are at home to Argentina on Tuesday but will be without defender Pablo Contreras and midfielder Arturo Vidal who were sent off on Friday.
When the qualifiers end in 2013, the top four will automatically go through to the finals in Brazil the following year with the fifth-placed side facing a playoff against an Asian team for one more berth.
Venezuela, in sixth place after a bye on Friday, are on 11 points, while Peru did their hopes some good with a 1-1 draw away to Bolivia at high altitude in La Paz that put them on eight.
Bolivia and Paraguay, who played at the last four World Cups and reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 2010 in South Africa, are in trouble in the bottom two places.