BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez, club mates at Barcelona, sparkled as Argentina and Chile put behind them a weekend to forget with victories in the South American 2014 World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.
Messi led the fightback for a 2-1 away win over Colombia as Argentina fielded a world class trident in attack by bringing on Sergio Aguero to join Messi and Gonzalo Higuain for the second half.
The victory lifted Argentina into second place in the standings on seven points, the same number as leaders Uruguay, who have a game in hand, but behind on goal difference.
Venezuela are third, also on seven points, after a 1-0 home win over Bolivia with Ecuador and Chile, who beat Paraguay 2-0 at home, on six. Colombia and Paraguay have four, Peru three and Bolivia one.
Colombia, hosts to Argentina on a heavy Metropolitano pitch in hot and humid Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, had the better of the first half and led 1-0 at the interval after Darlon Pabon scored with a free kick that took a deflection off Javier Mascherano.
“Messi was decisive because he gradually wore down the whole of the rival defence,” said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella. “It was a very important match for us after two bad results … We had a huge weight on our backs.”
Sabella, his team the subject of heavy criticism since Friday’s 1-1 draw with Bolivia in Buenos Aires, went for the win in the second half with Aguero giving his attack the depth it had lacked for 45 minutes.
With Colombia’s defence stretched, Messi equalised when goalkeeper David Ospina could not hold Jose Sosa’s low cross and the Argentina captain pounced to slot home just past the hour for his second goal of the 2014 qualifiers.
With six minutes to go, Messi fed Higuain in the box, Ospina could only parry the striker’s shot and Aguero, in hot scoring form for Manchester City, steered the rebound inside the near bottom corner.
Argentina and Chile were both rewarded for their commitment to attack, even if it took Sabella 45 minutes to realise that cautious tactics would get him nowhere with a competent counter-attacking outfit like Colombia.
Chile, sticking to an all-attack policy, made home advantage pay at the Nacional in Santiago with goals by defender Pablo Contreras and substitute Matias Campos Toro.
Sanchez, who missed the 4-0 pasting by Uruguay in Montevideo on Friday through injury, was a thorn in the Paraguay defence while Matias Fernandez pulled the strings for a side shorn of five players suspended for a late, drunken return from time off last Wednesday.
Venezuela followed up their 1-0 win over Argentina last month, with another sound home performance to beat Bolivia by the same score in a downpour in San Cristobal.
Ecuador, in fourth place with a game in hand, made the most of the advantage they get staging their home matches nearly 3,000m up in the rarefied air of the Andes for a second successive 2-0 win at the Atahualpa in Quito. — Reuters
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