Lionel Messi was the difference as Argentina edged a crucial World Cup qualifier against Chile. Elsewhere, an unlikely hattrick hero inspired Brazil to an emphatic win over Uruguay that moved them closer to Russia 2018.Argentina 1 – 0 Chile
A Lionel Messi penalty was enough to give Argentina to a tight but crucial World Cup qualifying win over Chile in Buenos Aires on Thursday.
The Barcelona forward, who briefly retired from international football last year, beat his former teammate Claudio Bravo from the spot in the 16th minute for his 58th international goal after Jose Fuenzalida had fouled Angel Di Maria in the box.
Chile had a goal disallowed before falling behind and Alexis Sanchez rattled the crossbar with a free kick just after the hour mark as the visitors took hold of the game in the second half.
However, they couldn’t find the breakthrough against Edgardo Bauza’s men, despite Argentina naming an attacking side that featured Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain alongside Di Maria and Messi.
“It was great that we won against a good team, but for me the best thing was the way we fought,” Bauza said after the game.
The result lifts Argentina into third spot in a tight qualifying table in which the teams in second (Uruguay) and sixth places (Chile) are separated by just three points.
Uruguay 1 – 4 Brazil
(Cavani 9′ – Paulinho 18′, 51′, 90’+2′, Neymar 74′)
Elsewhere, an impressive Brazil side ended Uruguay’s perfect home record in qualifying – despite Edinson Cavani opening the scoring for the hosts with a ninth-minute penalty.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar was in the thick of the action, scoring the third in the 4-1 win, but it was Paulinho – now plying his trade in the Chinese Super League – who was the star of the show.
The former Tottenham midfielder equalized from long range in the 19th minute before poking in a rebound, giving his side the lead early in the second half before completing his hattrick from a cross in injury time, following Neymar’s sumptuous chip.
Uruguay skipper Diego Godin felt his side were unfortunate.
“We trained well, we looked strong,” the Atletico Madrid defender said. “It’s a bitter result. We had chances. This doesn’t reflect the game. But this is a wake-up call.”
The result, Brazil’s seventh successive victory, means Tite’s men are close to securing their place at Russia 2018, with five matches remaining.
“To come here and win by any score is a great result,” the Brazil coach said afterwards. “Playing in this stadium and beating Uruguay is difficult for anyone.”
The next round of fixtures is on Tuesday, when Argentina travel to Bolivia, Ecuador host Colombia and Venezuela visit Chile.