Messi, Falcao lead way in South American qualifiers

Reuters and AP, BUENOS AIRES

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - Page 19

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 defense 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 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,” Pekerman said. “These points get you closer [to the finals] but they don’t assure you of anything, you have to keep adding.”

Chile took a 1-0 lead in Ecuador with an own-goal in the 24th minute by Ecuador defender Juan Carlos Paredes, who was trying to clear a cross from Mauricio Isla.

Caicedo then scored twice, with Segundo Castillo adding a third for the home side.

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. The Chileans will be without defender Pablo Contreras and midfielder Arturo Vidal for their home game against Argentina on Tuesday after the pair 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 another berth.

Venezuela, who did not play on Friday, are sixth on 11 points, while Peru did their hopes some good with a 1-1 draw with Bolivia at altitude in La Paz that put them on eight.

Bolivia and Paraguay occupy the bottom two places.