Messi and Neymar Jr score as Argentina and Brazil win
Fine performances from the Barça duo as they both find the target in World Cup qualifying victories against Chile and Uruguay
Brazil and Argentina both picked up crucial wins to give a massive boost to their World Cup 2018 qualification hopes and they very much had Barça players to thank for a large part of that success.
Neymar Jr, Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano were all involved, while in Europe, Denis Suárez came off the bench to score in a 3-1 friendly win for the Spain U21s in a friendly against Denmark.
CONMEBOL leaders Brazil faced a tough visit to second-placed Uruguay, although they were spared the ordeal of coping with the suspended Luis Suárez. They won 4-1 in Montevideo thanks to a Paulinho hat-trick with Neymar Jr providing the assist for the equaliser and then scoring a terrific lob to make it 3-1. The win leaves Brazil seven points clear at the top of the table, virtually assuring that they'll extend their record of being the only country to have played in every edition of the World Cup.
Messi from the spot
Another crunch match commenced half an hour later in Buenos Aires, with Argentina needing a win to leapfrog Chile into the qualification zone. Messi and Mascherano were both on for the full 90 minutes of a game that was ultimately decided by a solitary goal, a Messi penalty after 15 minutes.
Chile, with former FCB stars Claudio Bravo in goal and Alexis Sánchez in attack, battled hard, but to no avail, with Sánchez, now at Arsenal, hitting the crossbar in the second half.
Argentina move up to third in the group with 22 points, one less than Uruguay's 23. Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Paraguay remain in contention, however, meaning the last five match days promise to be dramatic affairs.
Denis scores too
Denis Suárez started off a full house of Barça goals on Thursday by coming on as a substitute for Mikel Oyarzabal in the Spain U21 side that was warming up for the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a friendly against Denmark in Murcia. The Barça midfielder scored the third goal in a 3-1 win.