Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria deliver

Looking back, the 4-0 victory over Ecuador on Saturday with

Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria

scoring may be the moment that star-studded Argentina finally began

to meet expectations.

The Gauchos were in control from the first minute, producing the

quick passes and perfect finishing that’s expected from a team that

has four of the world’s best forwards playing up front


”I’m happy because we won on my birthday,” said Aguero, who

turned 24 on Saturday.

In addition to the Fab Four, Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella

is also coming in for praise after failed efforts by Diego Maradona

and Sergio Batista to organize the abundant talent. Maradona failed

in the 2010 World Cup, and Batista disappointed last year in the

Copa America.

This time Argentina looked like a team.

”The forwards we have on this team have a tremendous

pedigree,” Sabella said. ”Luckily at the moment we are playing

well. We want to stay on this path – at times more conservative and

at times with more offense.”

Fans at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium seemed as confident as

the players, cheering every goal and attack.

”This boosts the confidence of the players, and the fans get

more confident too,” Sabella said. ”It works both ways. We have

players on this team who have had good seasons and have won many


The Gauchos improved to 10 points in five matches. Chile has

nine in five. Uruguay has eight, but has played only four.

Venezuela has eight in five games. Ecuador has six in four


In other South American qualifiers on Saturday, Venezuela

rallied to draw 1-1 against Uruguay in Montevideo.

In La Paz, Bolivia, Chile defeated Bolivia 2-0. On Sunday,

Colombia plays at Peru. Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup and

qualifies automatically.

Aguero opened the scoring in the 23rd, before Higuain doubled

the advantage in the 30th, taking a through pass from Lionel Messi.

Messi scored two minutes later, this time passing to Higuain who

returned the ball for the Barcelona star to drill it high into the


Angel Di Maria added the final goal in the 76th.

”The coach (Sabella) bet on an offensive lineup, and the

important thing was to return the confidence,” Higuain said. ”It

was a game to win and be the leaders. We played a good game and the

fans are happy. So are we.”

Added Messi: ”We have to continue like this. It’s a long


Messi, often criticized in Argentina for seldom showing the form

he does at Barcelona, almost scored another in the 69th, breaking

from the right side and shooting on-target with keeper Alexander

Dominguez leaping to bat away the shot.

Messi scored a record-setting 73 goals this season with

Barcelona. He broke the previous European club record of 67 by

Bayern Munich striker Gerd Mueller in 1972-73, and a world club

mark of 70 set by Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel in the American

Soccer League in 1924-25.

Argentina has a bye in the next round of qualifiers on June

9-10, playing a friendly against Brazil on June 9 in East

Rutherford, New Jersey.

In La Paz, Charles Aranguiz scored in first-half injury time and

Arturo Vidal added another in the second half to lead Chile to its

2-0 victory over Bolivia.

Bolivia was reduced to 10 men after Luis Gutierrez was sent off

in the 54th for a straight red card.

The three points are critical for Chile, which won in the thin

air of La Paz at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet). Most teams struggle at

the altitude.

In Montevideo, Jose Rondon scored on a header in the 84th minute

to give surprising Venezuela its 1-1 draw with Uruguay.

Diego Forlan scored in the 39th for Uruguay in a match that –

except for the two goals – was lackluster until heating up near the


Uruguay is unbeaten in 16 matches and rated the best team in

South America. Uruguay finished fourth in the 2010 World Cup, won

the Copa America last year and has soared to a historic best of No.

3 in the FIFA rankings.

Venezuela is the only team in the South American confederation

yet to play in a World Cup.