Soccer

Colombia, Ecuador shine; Argentina even better

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP)

Colombia and Ecuador racked up impressive home wins in South American World Cup qualifying on Friday, only to be overshadowed by Lionel Messi and his surging Argentina teammates.

Messi scored two goals and Sergio Aguero added another to overpower Uruguay 3-0, keeping the Argentines in first place in the qualifying standings for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Argentina has 17 points, one more than Colombia and Ecuador and five ahead of Uruguay and Chile. The top four teams qualify directly for Brazil 2014 while the fifth-place team faces a playoff against an Asian team. As host, Brazil does not need to qualify.

Colombia defeated Paraguay 2-0, with Radamel Falcao scoring two second-half goals, while Ecuador defeated Chile 3-1 with Felipe Caicedo scoring either side of halftime and Segundo Castillo adding a late goal.

Bolivia was held 1-1 at home by Peru in a result that did little to boost the qualification prospects of either of the two struggling teams.

Messi, who has largely failed to match his translate his outstanding Barcelona form to the national team, has shone ever since Alejandro Sabella was hired a year ago as coach, replacing Sergio Batista who in turn replaced Diego Maradona.

''We had so much of the ball,'' Messi said. ''The important thing is we won. We played a great game and we deserved the three points. They (Uruguay) only wanted to defend. They were just looking for something on the counterattack. Our team is getting stronger each time we play.'''

Added midfielder Javier Mascherano: ''That's another three points, but in this qualification you can lose a couple of games and fall out of contention.''

Messi scored in the 66th and added another with a free kick in the 80th while Aguero scored in the 75th at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, Argentina.

Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo and Aguero all had good chances before Messi opened the scoring. The Barcelona forward played a one-two with Di Maria, then slid to the ground while chipping the shot behind keeper Fernando Muslera.

Messi finished things off on a 25-meter (yard) free kick that hugged the ground and went in just inside the post.

''That was a great game from these guys,'' Sabella said. ''We played with good possession and a lot of patience.''

Uruguay was hardly a factor, looking nothing like the powerful team that won the Copa America last year and finished fourth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Colombia's Falcao, the Atletico Madrid forward, scored in the 52nd minute and added another in the 88th.

Colombia, coached by former Argentina national team coach Jose Pekerman, looks like the principle threat to Argentina's leadership of South American qualifying.

Falcao's two goals were very similar. Both times he cut in from the right side and struck a perfectly-timed left-footed shot into the net.

Colombia had at least six chances to put the match away before Falcao got his second goal.

''Paraguay was tough to break down,'' Falcao said. ''We had to really fight to get the job done.''

Paraguay has qualified for the last four World Cups and reached the quarterfinals at South Africa 2010.

In Ecuador's victory, Chile took a 1-0 lead with an own-goal in the 24th minute by Ecuador defender Juan Carlos Paredes, who was trying to clear a cross from Mauricio Isla. Caicedo then added two and Castillo added the other.

Bolivia's Alejandro Chumacero scored in the 51st minute to level the match in the thin air of La Paz. Peru had taken the lead in the 21st with a sensational 30-meter strike by Juan Carlos Marino.

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Follow Stephen Wade at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP



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