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Messi and Higuain spark Argentina's big win
08 October 2011

Lionel Messi enjoyed a commanding debut as Argentina skipper as his country opened its 2014 World Cup football qualifying campaign with a 4-1 win over Chile on Friday.

Messi scored once while Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain scored a hat-trick to give new coach Alejandro Sabella a triumphant start in his first competitive match in charge.

Argentina's Spanish club influence was completed by Angel di Maria setting up two of the goals for his Real Madrid teammate Higuain.

“It was important to get off on the right foot and we did just that,” said Higuain. “I liked a lot of what we did tonight. Now we have to keep this up.”

The 1978 and 1986 World champion, rebuilding after a poor Copa America which saw it exit in the quarterfinals, was ahead after eight minutes at Buenos Aires' Estadio Monumental where it hasn't lost a World Cup game for 18 years.

di Maria slipped in a pass to Higuain who drove the ball high into the net past Claudio Bravo in the Chile goal.

Messi then scored his 18th international goal in his 63rd appearance in the 26th minute when he was released by a fine pass from Higuain before beating Bravo with a low shot from the edge of the box.

Key players' absence

Chile, which was without key players Alexis Sanchez and Gary Medel through injury, came close to cutting the deficit in the 42nd minute when Humberto Suazo was unlucky to see his effort deflected wide by the foot of Pablo Zabaleta.

di Maria set up the third for Argentina in the 51st minute when he found Higuain with a smart cross which his Real Madrid teammate converted with a shot on the turn.

Nine minutes later Matias Fernandez pulled one back for Chile before Messi teed-up Higuain for his hat-trick in the 63rd minute after a poor Bravo clearance.

Copa America winner Uruguay got its qualifying campaign off to a perfect start as it beat continental outsider Bolivia 4-2 in Montevideo.

With Argentina rebuilding and Brazil having qualified automatically for the tournament that it will host, Uruguay came into the marathon South American campaign as favourite.

The combination of an early kick-off and miserable weather conditions meant there was a sparse crowd at the Centenario stadium, but Oscar Tabarez's side did not disappoint the fans who did turn out.

“I believe we were superior to our rivals in almost all areas and we created many chances,” said Tabarez.

Suarez scores

Uruguay took the lead with just three minutes on the clock when Liverpool striker Luis Suarez scored from inside the six-yard box after the Bolivian defence had failed to deal with a Diego Forlan corner.

Bolivia came up with a shock equaliser when Rudy Cardozo clipped the ball over goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and into the net off the far post.

Uruguay, World Cup winner in 1930 and 1950, reacted well to restore its lead before the half-hour mark when captain Diego Lugano rose highest to head a Forlan free-kick past Carlos Arias in the Bolivia goal.

And it was 3-1 before the interval with Napoli's Edinson Cavani diving to head home a right-wing Maxi Pereira cross at the far post.

Bolivia is not the same side when it leaves the rarefied atmosphere of its La Paz home and it could have conceded a fourth shortly after when Forlan saw his header from close range saved by Arias.

The Inter Milan player needs just one goal to become Uruguay's all-time leading scorer, but he will have to wait at least a few days as it was Lugano that got his second and his team's fourth from close range midway through the second-half.

Marcelo Martins pulled another goal back for the visitor from the penalty spot.

Elsewhere on Friday, Ecuador defeated Venezuela 2-0.

The results: South America Zone: Uruguay 4 (Suarez 4, Lugano 26, 72, Cavani 35) bt Bolivia 2 (Cardozo 18, Martins 88-pen); Ecuador 2 (Ayovi 15, Benitez 28) bt Venezuela 0; Argentina 4 (Higuain 8, 51, 63, Messi 26) bt Chile 1 (Fernandez 60).

 

 

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