Gonzalo Higuain scored
a hat-trick and Lionel Messi his first goal in a
competitive match for Argentina in two-and-a-half-years as the
hosts crushed Chile 4-1 in their opening 2014 World Cup
qualifier on Friday.
Higuain put Argentina ahead from Angel di Maria's pass in a
counter-attack after seven minutes at the Monumental stadium in
Buenos Aires and Messi, whose last goal in a competitive
international was against Venezuela in March 2009, netted the
second in the 25th.
Higuain chipped in a Di Maria cross from the left seven
minutes into the second half and completed his hat-trick when
Messi capitalised on a faulty clearance by keeper Claudio Bravo
and found the striker with a low pass.
Chile, who beat Argentina for the first time when the teams
last met, a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Santiago in October 2008,
pulled a goal back through Matias Fernandez on the hour.
Argentina easily outpaced Chile's vulnerable defence and it
took Higuain seven minutes to net a through ball from his Real
Madrid team-mate Di Maria.
"It's a great joy to start the qualifiers this way, this new
era with a new coach," a cheerful Higuain told reporters
referring to Alejandro Sabella, who took charge in August after
Argentina's disappointing showing at the Copa America as hosts.
Higuain later assisted captain Messi, who scored in the 25th
minute right after missing another chance.
The goal was a timely riposte to criticism from some home
fans who felt aggrieved at Messi's failure to emulate his lofty
standards at club-level for Barcelona with the national team.
As the playmaker marched towards the flag in the 32nd minute
to take a corner kick, he received a standing ovation from the
crowd in the adjacent terraces.
"It's important for Messi to be able to reverse this
collective psychosis," said Sabella. "But it's not the most
important thing, for if Messi doesn't score, he creates the
situations from where goals are scored."
Messi, appointed captain by Sabella on a tour of Asia last
month, said: "The team left a good impression and that's what's
important. The squad comes before individual happiness."
As half-time approached, Argentina slowed down and Chile,
though limited in attack without injured forward Alexis Sanchez,
tried to come back into the game from set-pieces and a long shot
from striker Humberto Suazo went just wide.
The interval was enough for the home team to regain the
momentum and Higuain chipped in a Di Maria cross from the left
seven minutes into the second half.
Eight minutes later, Chile, coached by Argentine 1986 World
Cup winner Claudio Borghi, narrowed the gap through Fernandez.
But Messi capitalised on a faulty clearance by Bravo and
slid the ball through to Higuain to round off the scoring with
half-an-hour left to play.
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