Latin America

Messi carries Argentina past Chile

Lionel Messi, Argentina
Lionel Messi gestures to fans at the end of Argentina's 2-1 win over Chile.
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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP)

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Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain each scored as Argentina beat Chile 2-1 Tuesday to remain atop the South American World Cup qualifying standings.

Messi has scored three goals over two games in four days, which has yielded six key points for Argentina.

In other qualifying matches on Tuesday, Ecuador drew 1-1 with Venezuela, Paraguay defeated Peru 1-0, and Bolivia beat Uruguay 4-1.

Argentina has 20 points atop the standings, three ahead of Ecuador and four up on Colombia. Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela have 12 each, with the top four to qualify for the World Cup and the fifth team to face a further playoff.

Peru and Bolivia have eight and Paraguay has seven.

''It was a good couple of days for us,'' Messi said. ''Six points against difficult teams like Uruguay and Chile. But when this resumes in March, it will be just as difficult. But obviously six points help us relax.''

Messi has 31 goals for Argentina, two behind Diego Maradona on Argentina's career scoring list. Gabriel Batistuta leads the all-time list with 54.

The Barcelona star has 12 goals in eight games this year for Argentina, the main reason that the South Americans are looking as one of early favorites to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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South American qualifiers resume on March 22, when the fixtures will be: Argentina vs. Venezuela, Uruguay vs. Paraguay, Peru vs. Chile, and Colombia vs. Bolivia. Ecuador will sit out the next round.

In the match in Santiago, Chile, Messi scored in the 28th and Higuain added another in the 31st. Felipe Gutierrez scored for Chile in second-half stoppage time.

Messi took a perfect through-ball from Fernando Gago and then slotted the ball home from 12 meters (yards).

Higuain doubled the lead when he broke down the right flank, cut inside and hit a left-footed shot into the net. Sergio Aguero hit the post in the 44th and Angel Di Maria came close in first-half stoppage time.

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