Messi / PHOTO: AFP

Argentina, featuring Messi and Mascherano, have beaten Venezuela 3-0 to stay top of the Conmebol World Cup qualifying zone. The FC Barcelona striker was one of the stars of the show. He was honoured before kickoff for winning his 100th cap and was able to celebrate with one goal and two assists for Higuaín.

Both Messi and Mascherano were in the starting line up, the former wearing the captain’s armband and the latter back in his old position of midfield, partnered by Gago. Mascherano performed solidly, while Messi was highly active in attack and provided the perfect pass for Higuaín to open the scoring after 28 minutes. Shortly before the break, Cichero handballed in the area and from the penalty spot Messi converted his 32nd goal in the national jersey. Messi again supplied Real Madrid’s Higuaín with the assist in the second half that set up the definitive 3-0 result.

Messi and Mascherano pleased

Both players were obviously happy with the way things went. Messi confessed that he and Higuaín are understanding each other better with each game, while adding that “the people’s enthusiasm for me and the national team are huge and I am very thankful”.

Mascherano preferred to hold back the euphoria after such a convincing performance, saying “the best we can do is forget that we are top of the table and carry on working as we have been doing … Bolivia will be a hard match, because of the altitude and because the Bolivians will be so keen to beat us like they did the last time were in La Paz.” That game will be played on Tuesday night, where Argentina will be looking to avenge 6-1 defeat in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup.

Alexis and Chile lose in Peru (1-0)

A series of four straight defeats has left Chile in trouble in the South American qualifying tournament. They were looking good for a draw in Lima before Peruvian striker Jefferson Farfán found the net in the 87th minute in what had been an intense, fast and aggressive match, with both sides sloppy over the final metres. The Barça star played the full ninety minutes.

But all is not lost for Chile, who are joint sixth on 12 points along with Venezuela, who are now their most direct rivals for the fifth place in the group, which earns the right to a play-off against the fifth best Asian team. Uruguay are just one point above them on 13 points, and that’s the side Chile face next, providing them with an excellent opportunity to get back into the direct qualifying positions.