Messi hat-trick keeps Argentina on track for Qatar

Lionel Messi scored a brilliant hat-trick as Argentina cruised to a 3-0 home win over Bolivia in their 2022 World Cup qualifier here on Friday (IST).

The Paris Saint-Germain forward gave the hosts the lead in the 14th minute at the Monumental stadium by nutmegging Luis Haquin and curling a sublime 25-yard effort into the top left corner.

Messi doubled his tally just after the hour, twice exchanging passes with Lautaro Martinez before cutting past Jairo Quinteros and drilling an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.

The third goal came two minutes from time when the ball bounced fortuitously into the 34-year-old’s path after Lampe parried away Joaquin Correa’s long-range attempt. The Albiceleste No. 10 was on hand to duly send a first-time effort into an unguarded net, Xinhua reports.

Argentina, who are unbeaten in these qualifiers, remain second in the 10-team South American group with 18 points from eight matches while Bolivia have six points from nine outings.

At the end of the qualifying campaign, the top four teams will earn a direct berth at next year’s World Cup in Qatar. The fifth-ranked side will advance to an intercontinental playoff.

In other South American qualifiers, Colombia beat Chile 3-1 in Barranquilla, Paraguay overcome Venezuela 2-1 in Asuncion and Uruguay clinched a 1-0 home win over Ecuador.

Miguel Borja scored two first-half goals as Colombia beat Chile 3-1. Colombia took the lead in the 19th minute when Borja converted from the penalty spot after Luis Dias was tripped by Paulo Diaz.

The Gremio striker was again on target a minute later, coolly slotting a low shot into the bottom right corner after running onto Rafael Borre’s headed pass on the counterattack.

Chile reduced the deficit just before the hour mark through Jean Meneses, who struck from close range after being set up by Erick Pulgar.

But the hosts regained their composure and Diaz made it 3-1 when his shot from distance ricochetted in off Mauricio Isla, who bungled an attempt to clear the ball off the line with his right foot.

Colombia are now undefeated in their past five qualifiers and occupy fifth place in the 10-team South American zone standings. Chile, meanwhile, have gone six matches without a victory in the qualifiers, dropping to eighth spot.