Cordoba: Lionel Messi’s Argentina brushed aside Paraguay 3-1 to go top of the South American 2014 World Cup qualifiers at the Mario Kempes Stadium on Friday.
Goals from Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Messi, with a brilliant free-kick, gave Argentina their first home win over Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier in 39 years.
Argentina lead the South American group with 13 points from six matches, one more point than Chile and Ecuador and two ahead of Uruguay. Messi scored with a brilliant free kick from more than 30 metres that dipped low inside the diving Villar’s left hand post in the 63rd minute to take his tally to 10 goals in Argentina’s last six matches.
Colombia moved within a point of Uruguay with a convincing 4-0 win. Atletico Madrid striker Falcao put the hosts ahead in the second minute, Teofilo Gutierrez padded the lead with two goals in four minutes early in the second half and Camilo Zuniga added a fourth in stoppage time.
Ecuador struggled past lowly Bolivia 1-0, with the sole goal coming in the 74th minute when substitute Felipe Caicedo converted a penalty. Ecuador moved up to third in the standings while Bolivia is only above last-placed Paraguay on goal difference. Peru won 2-1 at home against Venezuela to move out of last place while dropping Venezuela out of the top five.
In the European, Italy were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw by Bulgaria as the rest of leading sides made winning starts in their first matches.
Showing little of the form that took the team to the European Championship final, the Italians were denied victory in their Group B opener when Georgi Milanov equalised for Bulgaria — ranked 89th in the world — in the 66th minute in Sofia.
That was the only big surprise of the opening round of qualifiers, although Portugal were hardly impressive in rallying to a 2-1 win over unheralded Luxembourg, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the equaliser for the visitors in a week when he has been speaking of “feeling sad” because of professional reasons at Real Madrid.
Germany will also have been expected to beat the Faroe Islands by a bigger margin than 3-0, leaving England to record the most eye-catching result of the continent’s big guns — 5-0 at Moldova in Group H.
The Netherlands ended a four-match losing run by beating Turkey 2-0 in what looked to be a tricky opening match for the Dutch in Group D, while France overcame Finland 1-0 thanks to a goal by Abou Diaby in coach Didier Deschamps’ first competitive match as France coach. The standout score came in Liechtenstein, where the hosts were thumped 8-1 by Bosnia.
On the night that Spain flexed their muscles with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly, the team they thrashed 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final continued their hangover from that match.
Italy’s only other game since their mauling at the hands of Spain was a 3-2 loss to England in a friendly last month and the draw in Sofia — where the Azzurris have never won in five matches — means a likely battle with the Czech Republic and Denmark for the sole automatic qualifying spot in the group.