Messi producing magic for Argentina
Lionel Messi has never played better for Argentina, which is no comfort for Chile and its embattled coach Claudio Borghi.
Argentina plays Tuesday at Chile, which has lost two straight in South American qualifying. Another loss could cost Borghi - an Argentine - his job.
Messi scored two goals on Friday and set up another for Sergio Aguero in a 3-0 victory against 2010 World Cup semifinalist Uruguay. Messi is closing in on Diego Maradona's scoring record for Argentina's national team, matching the magic he's always produced for Barcelona.
In other matches on Tuesday, it's: Venezuela vs. Ecuador, Bolivia vs. Uruguay; Paraguay vs. Peru. Colombia has a bye.
The Argentines are finally now playing as a team since Alejandro Sabella took over as coach two years ago.
''Messi is playing exceptional football,'' Sabella said. ''He's really, really inspired and the group around him is responding.''
Messi has scored 30 goals for Argentina and is about to overtake Maradona, who is third on the list with 33. The leader is Gabriel Batistuta with 54, followed by Hernan Crepo with 35. The way Messi is playing, he could overtake them all before the 2014 World Cup ends in Brazil.
Messi, teammate Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez of Uruguay lead the qualifying group with six goals. Radamel Falcao of Colombia has five and Felipe Caicedo of Ecuador has four.
Argentina has 17 points, one more than Colombia and Ecuador and five ahead of Uruguay and Chile. Venezuela is six behind. The top four 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.
Borghi is feeling the heat because Chile reached the second round of the World Cup two years ago in South Africa under a team coached by Marcelo Bielsa, another Argentine who is now at Athletic Bilbao. Bielsa was popular in Chile, but elected to leave after getting caught up in a dispute among members of the Chilean federation.
To make things worse, Borghi is serving a four-game ban from FIFA for swearing at the referee at a World Cup qualifier in June in Venezuela. He has already served two games. He will also be without three suspended players: defenders Osvaldo Gonzalez and Pablo Contreras and forward Arturo Vidal.
Another loss and some are predicting Borghi will quit, which he did two years ago when his Argentina club Boca Juniors failed to get results.
Borghi declined to talk with reporters after Friday's 3-1 loss in Ecuador.
The Chilean newspaper La Tercera ran a cutting headline: ''Borghi has begun to run out of his line of credit.''
Ecuador, which is trying to qualify for its third World Cup, will play at Venezuela without Caicedo, who scored two goals on Friday in the 3-1 victory over Chile. Caicedo will miss the match after accumulating too many yellow cards. He also scored the only goal in the previous match, a 1-0 victory over Bolivia.
Ecuador is also without injured forward Renato Ibarra, while midfielder Luis Fernando Saritama is suspended.
Venezuela is the only team in the South American confederation that has yet to play in a World Cup. A victory would move the Venezuelans closer to the top of the group.
Uruguay has a tough match as Bolivia is always difficult to beat in La Paz, which is located at 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Without time to adjust to the altitude, Uruguay is training in the low-altitude Bolivian city of Santa Cruz and will fly to La Paz just hours before the match.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has suggested he may start an unusual lineup, taking players ''who know how to deal with the altitude.''
Peru and Paraguay are two teams - along with Bolivia - that seems to have little chance of advancing.
Peru has eight points and is the best bet, but needs to win at Paraguay. Peru drew 1-1 on Friday in La Paz, a draw that felt like a victory.
Its previous two matches were a 1-1 draw with Argentina and a 2-1 victory against Venezuela.
''We're on a good streak, but we need more points,'' Peru coach Sergio Markarian said.