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W/Cup Qualifier: Messi Magic Lifts Argentina, Sanchez Saves Chile

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*Brazil Records Six Straight Win Under New Coach – 

Lionel Messi scored a majestic free-kick and set up two more goals as Argentina got their faltering 2018 World Cup qualification campaign back on track with a 3-0 win over Colombia on Tuesday night.

Barcelona maestro Messi curled in a superb free-kick from 30 yards in the 10th minute before providing the cross for Lucas Pratto’s 23rd minute header.

The tireless Messi then popped up in the 84th minute to set up Angel Di Maria’s late goal as Argentina secured all three points.

The two-time world champions had taken just two points from their previous four games to leave themselves languishing just outside the qualification berths in South America’s marathon qualifying tournament.

But Tuesday’s victory puts Argentina back into the qualification positions in fifth place with six games remaining.

Beaten 3-0 by Brazil last week, Messi and his team-mates came out determined to prevent Colombia from registering their first win on Argentine soil since 1993.

But a boisterous Argentine crowd at San Juan’s Estadio del Bicentenario did not have long to wait for the opening goal.

A jinking Messi run ended with the Argentina captain being clumsily upended by Barrios around 30 yards from goal.

Messi, who scored two free-kicks from a similar distance in the Copa America Centenario in June, had no hesitation in stepping up once again and his spectacular whipping effort crashed in off the underside of the bar with David Ospina beaten.

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It was Messi’s 57th goal in his 116th game, giving him an average strike rate of just a fraction under a goal every two games.

Colombia responded with another headed effort from Falcao that went just over in the 19th minute.

But four minutes later Messi was to the fore again. A darting run on the right took him clear of the hapless Barrios, and his pinpoint cross picked out Pratto who calmly steered his header wide of Ospina for 2-0.

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The result was never in doubt thereafter, and Messi engineered his team’s final goal with six minutes left, surging down the right flank and squaring for Di Maria who shot into the roof of the net.

While Argentina have made hard work of qualification so far, Brazil appear to be coasting towards Russia.

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Only a miraculous sequence of results is likely to deny them an automatic qualifying place following Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Peru in Lima.

Manchester City-bound teenager Gabriel Jesus was the hero once more, scoring one goal and laying on another for Renato Augusto to give Brazil a sixth consecutive win under new coach Tite.

The result left Brazil four points clear at the top of the standings with 27 points from 12 games.

In qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, 28 points was enough to guarantee automatic qualification.

With six games left, Brazil should be safe with something to spare.

Alexis Sanchez’s injury gamble paid off here Tuesday as the Arsenal striker scored twice to help Chile defeat bitter rivals Uruguay 3-1 in their World Cup qualifier.

Sanchez had risked the wrath of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger after playing in the Santiago showdown despite injuring a hamstring during training last week.

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Wenger had expressed fear Chile had made a “suicidal” decision by playing Sanchez against the Uruguayans after the injury.

But the in-form striker showed no sign of ill-health with two second-half goals to seal Chile’s comeback victory after Edinson Cavani had given Uruguay an early lead at the Estadio Nacional.

Uruguay looked to be heading into half-time 1-0 up but in stoppage time, Chile mounted their best attack of the half.

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Sanchez released Jean Beausejour down the left flank and the former Wigan winger’s cross found Eduardo Vargas who headed past Fernando Muslera for 1-1.

Chile came out for the second half clearly buoyed by the goal and on 60 minutes Sanchez struck.

The Arsenal forward spun away from Matias Vecino with ease on the edge of the area before getting his shot away.

Sanchez’s effort was struck firmly but poor goalkeeping from Muslera allowed the shot to squirt into the net at the near post.

In the 76th minute, Sanchez then darted onto a long ball from Marcelo Diaz to make it 3-1.

In the closing stages Bravo denied Uruguay a lifeline when he saved a Suarez penalty.

Bravo and Suarez

Ecuador romped to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Venezuela to reignite their 2018 World Cup qualifying challenge as Paraguay’s bid suffered a setback with a defeat to struggling Bolivia.

Ecuador, who had taken only a point from their previous two games, proved too strong for a Venezuela side buoyed by a 5-0 win over Bolivia last week.

Arturo Mina headed Ecuador ahead in the 51st minute before the hosts cut loose in the final 10 minutes as Venezuela swarmed forward in search of an equaliser.

Miler Bonanos tapped in from close range to complete a sweeping Ecuador counter-attack and make the game safe on 82 minutes.

Four minutes later it was left to Everton’s Enner Valencia to apply the coup de grace, finishing calmly past Daniel Hernandez to make it 3-0 after Venezuela were left exposed at the back once more.
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