The Barcelona and Real Madrid stars both hit the net within three minutes of each other as the Roja, despite several excellent chances, slumped to yet another defeatGoals from Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain led Argentina to a smash and grab victory on Tuesday evening, downing Chile 2-1 to extend their lead at the top of World Cup qualifying.
The visitors were let off the hook several times by poor finishing in a brilliant first-half, and netted twice in the same period to take another giant leap towards Brazil while Felipe Gutierrez restored some pride for the hosts with his injury-time strike.
Already assured oof staying at the Conmebol summit come the end of 2012 thanks to Ecuador's draw against Venezuela, Argentina nevertheless came out looking for an instant advantage. A mazy run from Lionel Messi opened the game up for Angel Di Maria on the left, but the midfielder shot wide with time to hit the target. In the opening exchanges, however, it was Chile who set the tempo.
Working excellently down the flanks through Mauricio Isla and Mark Gonzalez, La Roja almost made their pressure count through Gary Medel. The feisty midfielder was sent through one-on-one with Sergio Romero, but squandered his chance to put the hosts in the lead as the goalkeeper saved. A powerful run from Mauricio Isla then teed up Gonzalez in the box, who became the latest player thwarted by Romero who palmed away his header.
Argentina were under the cosh, but wasted no time in teaching their rivals the danger of squandering their early flurry of opportunities. A pinpoint Fernando Gago ball found Messi onside and unmarked; 'La Pulga' released a touch of exquisite simplicity to steady himself, before stroking the ball past Miguel Pinto to net his 31st international goal.
Just seconds later, Chile's woes were doubled. Higuain took the ball wide on the right and ghosted into the box, his left-footed effort giving the keeper no chance and making it 2-0 for the confident visitors.
The rest of the first-half passed in frenetic fashion, as Chile's eagerness to find the net led to as many chances for the Albiceleste as for those in red. Medel had an excellent shout for a penalty after bulldozing his way past two defenders, and then saw his first touch let him down as he hesitated free on the right and allowed Angel Di Maria to make a last-ditch intervention.
At the other end, Sergio Aguero shrugged off the attention of the defence with a wonderful flick, and only a strong save from Pinto forced the ball onto the post to avoid a third. Chile had been more the match of their visitors in Santiago, but nevertheless went into the break trailing by two and with work to do.
The game took on a slightly more sedate pace following the interval, but there were still chances to spare. Federico Fernandez came within inches of connecting with Messi's free-kick and notching the third, while Sebastian Pinto went close for Chile. The striker connected well with Jean Beausejour's cross, but could not steer his effort on goal and missed a fabulous opportunity.
The match's fluidity was affected by a spate of brutal Chile tackling resulting in more than one booking, but Fernandez once more had the chance to put the Albiceleste further ahead. The Napoli man connected well with Messi's corner, but saw his header fly just wide of Pinto's post. Messi then had the chance to score, denied one-on-one by the busy Pinto.
Higuain's withdrawal after suffering a heavy challenge led to the entry of Pablo Guinazu and a more conservative Argentina performance than early on, as they saw out the remaining minutes with minimal fuss. Chile pulled one back in injury time through Felipe Gutierrez, but it was too little too late and the Roja had to watch their neighbours see out a 2-1 win that marks their fourth victory in five World Cup qualifying games over the course of 2012.
The triumph means Argentina enjoy a three point lead at the top of the South American group, leading Ecuador with 20 while Colombia lie one further back with a game in hand. Chile, meanwhile, are level on points with Venezuela and Uruguay with 12, just outside of the spots guaranteeing a place in Brazil 2014.