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PIX: Messi's Argentina win again, US freeze out Costa Rica

Last updated on: March 24, 2013 10:58 IST

PIX: Messi's Argentina win again, US freeze out Costa Rica

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Lionel Messi produced another brilliant performance to lead Argentina to a 3-0 win over Venezuela in World Cup qualifying on Friday, but Colombia kept up the chase on the group leaders with a 5-0 demolition of Bolivia.The duo are the front runners in the nine-nation South American group heading into the final straight of the qualifiers with their coaches looking to ensure there is a good balance of hard work to go with the immense skill.Messi, who stated his World Cup goal once again in midweek, is at the fulcrum of everything that is good about a dynamic team coached by Alejandro Sabella in which midfielders Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago and Walter Montillo also shone.Fans chanted favourite World Cup victory songs as Argentina displayed their attacking skills and also showed improvements in defence that reflect their work under Sabella.

Image: Argentina's Leonel Messi loses his balance
Photographs: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters

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'We have a forward line that can be considered among the best in the world'

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Messi, who converted a penalty, is two goals short of the 34 Diego Maradona scored for Argentina, while Gonzalo Higuain's brace put him top of the South American scorers chart.

"We have a forward line that can be considered among the best in the world," Sabella told reporters.

"Venezuela are a tough team, very compact, who know what they want. What happened was that Argentina played very well, especially in the first half and were very superior."

Sabella said he asked for and got plenty of defensive help from his forwards and this will be important for Tuesday's match away to Bolivia in La Paz where visiting teams suffer the effects of the high altitude. Argentina lost 6-1 on their last visit.


Image: Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain (centre) celebrates with teammates Lionel Messi (left) and Ezequiel Lavezzi
Photographs: Martin Acosta/Reuters
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'We have to keep calm and not get anxious'

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Compatriot Jose Pekerman, whose second-placed Colombia side have notched up 19 goals to Argentina's 23, might have been talking about Argentina too when he referred to his Colombia team's strong form.

Colombia have a very realistic chance of ending a 16-year wait to play at the World Cup finals but Pekerman attempted to quash the hype.

"We have to keep calm and not get anxious. We don't think about the points we need to get to the World Cup, we'll carry on working," he said.


Image: Venezuela's Frank Feltscher (top) jumps over Argentina's Javier Mascherano
Photographs: Marcos Brindicci/Reuters
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Uruguay scraped back into the qualifying berths

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The other teams have their work cut out to keep pace although Ecuador, who had a bye on Friday, are in good shape in third place with the top four making it to the finals.

Ecuador crushed El Salvador 5-0 in a friendly on Friday before hosting Paraguay on Tuesday in Quito where they have picked up maximum points from five home matches.

Uruguay scraped back into the qualifying berths with a 1-1 draw at home to Paraguay but only because Venezuela lost. Luis Suarez scored his eighth goal in the qualifiers.

Coach Oscar Tabarez felt Uruguay had the better of the second half but conceded a late equaliser to a Paraguay side in bottom place and who look unlikely to reach the finals for the fifth time in a row.

Venezuela occupy fifth place, which is valid for a two-legged playoff against an Asian team for another berth at the finals.

Chile were under the guidance of new Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli for the match away to Peru but lost 1-0 to a Jefferson Farfan goal scored three minutes from time, leaving them in sixth place with the same number of points as Venezuela.

The victory was a big boost for Peru, one point behind Chile, as they seek to reach the finals for the first time since 1982.


Image: Paraguay's Cristian Riveros (right) fights for the ball with Uruguay's Luis Suarez
Photographs: Andres Stapff/Reuters
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Mexico melt in Honduras

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Mexico gave up a two goal lead to draw 2-2 in blazing heat in Honduras, while the United States beat Costa Rica 1-0 in a blizzard by the Rocky Mountains as CONCACAF's World Cup qualifiers served up another night of drama and controversy.

In Kingston, Panama showed they are not going to accept their ranking as the weakest team in the six-team 'hexagonal' final qualifying phase as they fought back for a 1-1 draw with Jamaica.

Teams in CONCACAF have long sought to achieve as much advantage as possible from their home qualifiers with venue selection and kick-off times frequently designed to discomfort opponents and Friday's games showed the two extremes that can result.

The temperatures in San Pedro Sula rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), no particular surprise given the Hondurans chose to kick-off at 1500 local, in blazing sunshine, rather than in the cooler evening.

How much of an impact that had on Mexico's performance will be debated but after dominating with some sparkling football and two great finishes from Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, El Tri crumbled and allowed two goals in the final 13 minutes as they had to settle for a second straight draw.


Image: Mexico's Jorge Torres Nilo leaves the field
Photographs: Stringer/Reuters
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Carlo Costly gave the home side new life

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Hernandez put Mexico ahead with a superbly angled glancing header in the 28th minute after Andres Guardado burst past two defenders and delivered a pinpoint cross.

'Chicharito' struck again nine minutes into the second half with a darting run at the near post, poking in a free-kick by Carlos Salcido.

It was the 24-year-old's 30th goal in 45 appearances for the Mexican national team and looked as though it would be enough for a victory.

But Carlo Costly gave the home side new life in the 77th minute with a powerful header from a Mario Martinez corner to cut the deficit.

Three minutes later, Costly was ruled to have been brought down by defender Francisco Rodriguez and Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell awarded a penalty.

Jerry Bengtson's spot kick was saved by Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa but the Honduras striker drove in the loose ball.


Image: Carlo Costly of Honduras celebrates
Photographs: Stringer/Reuters
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'It was robbery, a disgrace, I've never played a game in these conditions'

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The pressure was on the United States after their defeat in Honduras in February and reports of discontent among some players with coach Juergen Klinsmann.

But after their victory, thanks to a 16th minute strike from new skipper Clint Dempsey, the US now head to Mexico City on Tuesday with a point more than their arch rivals.

Costa Rica, though, were fuming about the referee's decision to keep playing through a blizzard which intensified as the game progressed on a snow covered field.

Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the game was an "embarrassment to football" and midfielder Cristian Bolanos was also irate.

"It was robbery, a disgrace, I've never played a game in these conditions," the player added.

Costa Rican officials said their federation would protest to FIFA about the referee's decision to continue with play, but on the field they fought hard to the end and could easily have taken a point from the game.

In Jamaica, Marvin Elliott headed the 'Reggae Boyz' into a 22nd minute lead, with his first international goal coming from a Demar Phillips corner.

But Panama showed once again they don't roll over as they battled back and got their reward in the 66th minute, with a long range shot from Luis Henriquez which took a deflection and beat the diving Donovan Ricketts.

On Tuesday, Panama host Honduras while Jamaica travel to Costa Rica.


Image: Costa Rica's Bryan Oviedo (right) fights for the ball with Geoff Cameron of the US
Photographs: Mark Leffingwell/Reuters
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