Real Madrid striker nets three top-drawer finishes in the perfect start to the Albiceleste's World Cup qualifying campaign, as the visitors were punished for defensive lapsesAn inspired display from Gonzalo Higuain was the key for Argentina as they started their journey to Brazil 2014 with an emphatic 4-1 win over Chile at the Estadio Monumental.
The Real Madrid striker netted a hat-trick and provided an assist as the ambitious Roja were exposed badly at the back. Lionel Messi also found the net to end his international goal drought, while Matias Fernandez scored what was little more than a consolation for Claudio Borghi's men.
As Alejandro Sabella began his first competitive game at the helm of Argentina, expectations were high from the home crowd at the Monumental. They did not have to wait long to celebrate; a slick counter-attack was capped by a magical cross-field ball from Angel di Maria to Madrid team-mate Gonzalo Higuain, who blasted the ball into the back of the net after just seven minutes.
Despite the early advantage, the Albiceleste did not have everything their own way in the opening exchanges. The home midfield were pressed back by a dynamic Chile outfit, forcing the hosts to play pensively and from deep and both Fernandez and Humberto Suazo went close as the Roja pressed for an instant reply.
This desire to attack, however, was bound to have repercussions at the back. Lionel Messi saw a last-ditch tackle from Jean Beausejour rob him of a goal, but seconds later he neatly converted Higuain's through-ball to double the lead and bring some comfort to proceedings.
Not too much though. There was a serious scare towards the end of the first-half when Pablo Zabaleta gifted the ball near his own area and Suazo was played in. 'Chupete' was one-on-one with Mariano Andujar, but saw his effort slide agonisingly past the left post to squander a chance to cut down a 2-0 deficit at the break.
The second period was less than a minute old when Andujar was worried again, but Jorge Valdivia failed to get enough on a long effort after sterling work from Mauricio Isla down the right and the Catania man made a comfortable save. Messi then had the chance to end the contest, only to be denied from an acute angle by Claudio Bravo after another fluid move.
A rampant Argentina were not satisfied and sewed up the game six minutes into the half with another great finish from Higuain. Jose Sosa foraged down the left before the ball found its way to Di Maria, and a pinpoint cross found 'Pipita' primed to blast home on the run and hit the third for the Albiceleste.
Chile then threatened a mini-revival. Eduardo Vargas' cross was only partially cleared by Andujar and the ball eventually ended up with Matias Fernandez to slot home. Hopes of a draw, however, were extremely short-lived.
Messi and Higuain strode forward with little resistance from the Chile backline and a neat one-two left 'Pipita' open to net his third of the evening, provoking a joyous reaction from the usually phlegmatic Sabella. Messi was in inspired form, and Di Maria squandered a golden chance set up by the 'Pulga' to miss the chance to put his own name on the score-sheet.
The livewire substitute Vargas forced a decent save from Andujar and looked dangerous, but there was little else to worry Argentina as they marched to a dominant victory.
Argentina will next travel to Caracas to take on Venezuela next Tuesday, while Chile will hope to bounce back at home to Peru.