Messi / PHOTO: FIFA.COM

Argentina’s national team took a big step towards clinching a spot in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after beating Alexis Sánchez’ Chile by 1-2. Chile had the initiative through much of the first half but first-half strikes from Leo Messi (min. 28) and Gonzalo Higuaín (min. 31) dashed the hopes of the men managed by Claudio Borghi. All three FC Barcelona players - Messi, Javier Mascherano and Alexis - called up for the World Cup qualifiers played the entire 90 minutes of the match.

Lethal counterattacks

Chile, playing at home, had the initiative throughout most of the first half. The home team threatened to score the opener on various occasions but Romero was simply imperious in goal. At the other end of the pitch the Messi-Higuaín-Agüero trio were lethal in front of the goal defended by Pinto. On 28 minutes, Gago’s pass found Messi in the Chilean area; Barça’s number 10 brilliantly rid himself of his mark before beating Pinto with a left-footed shot to the near post. Three minutes later, it was Higuaín that benefited from a cross-field long ball. The Real Madrid striker rounded two defenders before slotting his shot into the upper 90 for Argentina’s second. Alejandro Sabella’s men had weathered Chile’s initial flurry and went to the break with a two-goal advantage.

Too little too late

The second half started just as the first, with Chile threatening Argentina’s goal. The defence led by Mascherano did well to avert the chances created by a very active Alexis. The home crowd in Santiago urged their heroes forward and Chile’s national team responded but they were unable to break the Argentine defence until it was too late. It wasn’t until the 92nd minute that the substitute Gutiérrez pulled a goal back for Chile. The play leading up to the goal originated from a good Alexis run down the middle of the pitch, the ball was pass wide before it was crossed back into the path of the goal-scorer Gutiérrez.

Argentina now sit atop of the South American World Cup qualifying group, three and four points clear of Ecuador and Colombia, respectively. After this morning’s goal against Chile, Messi is now just two goals adrift of Diego Maradona’s all-time goalscoring tally for Argentina (34). Only Gabriel Batistuta and Hernán Crespo have scored more goals for the Albiceleste, with 56 and 35 goals respectively.