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Played
September 7, 2012 7:10 PM EDT
Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes — Ciudad de Córdoba, Provincia de Córdoba
Referee:‬ Wilson Luiz Seneme‎
Attendance:‬ 51000‎
 
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Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi
Argentina
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Argentina 3-1 Paraguay: Messi stunner seals victory for Albiceleste

The Barcelona star netted a glorious free kick as Sabella's men took first place in World Cup qualifying, piling further misery on their underachieving neighbor.

By Daniel Edwards

Festejo argentino
Festejo argentino / Getty
Argentina maintained its perfect record in 2012 with a 3-1 victory over Paraguay on Friday night, a result that took it top of the Conmebol race to the 2014 World Cup ahead of closest challengers Chile and Ecuador.

Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi were all on target for the Albiceleste in a comfortable if not entirely convincing triumph. Paraguay's sole strike came from the penalty spot via Jonathan Fabbro.

The Argentina team came out in the Estadio Mario Kempes knowing that, thanks to Uruguay's 4-0 defeat to Colombia, a win would put it top of the World Cup qualifying standings. Inspired by Ezequiel Lavezzi, it wasted no time in taking the initiative. The Paris Saint-Germain man did well to hold up the ball on the right-hand side and his cross, after several unfortunate deflections for the Guarani, landed at the feet of Angel Di Maria who curled the ball past Justo Villar. After just two minutes, Alejandro Sabella's side was on top.

Despite the early lead, the Albiceleste were struggling against a Paraguay outfit determined to disrupt play by fair means or foul. The visitors would find their way back into the game in bizarre circumstances. Rodrigo Brana inexplicably handled in the area from a cross under absolutely no pressure, and naturalized Argentine Jonathan Fabbro gleefully converted with class to level the game for his adopted nation.

The game continued in a disjointed fashion, as the hosts struggled to find their rhythm in the face of fierce tackling that brought 12 fouls and two bookings in the first half alone. It took another stroke of good fortune for Argentina to retake the lead.

A horribly-sliced clearance from Jonathan Ortiz fell straight into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, who was in exactly the right place to pick up the ball. The Real Madrid man still had a lot to do, but finished with aplomb across the body of Villar to restore the advantage in Cordoba. Lionel Messi almost extended the advantage with a free kick that struck the post, but despite the lead the South American giant was far from its best in the opening 45 minutes.

Messi immediately brought the Kempes crowd to full voice two minutes into the second half, with an individual piece of magic that deserved a goal. The Barcelona maestro effortlessly skipped past three defenders to go one-on-one with Villar, but his chipped finish hit the post to the groan of the local support. It was the second time the woodwork had denied 'La Pulga' as he sought to add to his eight international goals harvested so far in 2012. At the other end Romero also had to be alert, saving low from Victor Ayala after the Lanus man tried his luck from a long-range set piece.

After that early flurry of activity, the game settled down into a low-key rhythm. Argentina rarely looked like surrendering its lead, but despite the efforts of Lavezzi and Di Maria, who worked tirelessly, there appeared little prospect of adding to the tally. Where Lionel Messi is, however, goals are usually not too far away.

The little wizard once more found the post with a wickedly swerving free kick, but this time the ball struck the inside of the woodwork and nestled safely inside the net, taking Lio's tally to an incredible nine in five games this year. Coming 20 minutes into the second half, the strike gave Argentina a decisive cushion as it looked to overtake Chile at the top of the table.

Victor Caceres would see a late header ruled out correctly for offside, but there was no way back for Paraguay, which slumped to its fourth qualifying defeat and remains second to bottom. Argentina recorded its third consecutive Conmebol win, and its fifth triumph in as many games this year, to go one point clear of Chile and Ecuador with a total of 13.

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Argentina

22
Sergio Romero
Goalkeeper
3.50
24
Ezequiel Garay
Defender
3.50
21
3.50
14
Hugo Campagnaro
Defender
3.50
15
M. Rojo
Defender
3.50
22
Ángel Di María
Midfielder
3′ 79′
4.00
5
Fernando Gago
Midfielder
4.00
22
Rodrigo Braña
Midfielder
83′ 87′
2.50
21
4.00
9
4.00
10
Lionel Messi
Striker
64′
4.50

Paraguay

3.00
1
J. Villar
Goalkeeper
2.50
32
2.50
3
2.50
14
P. da Silva
Defender
2.00
16
C. Riveros
Midfielder
1.00
-
R. Ortiz
Midfielder
21′
2.50
5
3.00
17
2.50
21
 - 
16
V. Ayala
Midfielder
1.50
9

Substitutes

21
 - 
32
Óscar Ustari
Goalkeeper
 - 
2
 - 
6
 - 
5
 - 
35
 - 
24
José Sosa
Midfielder
 - 
5
Lucas Biglia
Midfielder
87′
3.00
11
 - 
5
3.50
9
 - 
8
3.50

Substitutes

 - 
22
A. Silva
Goalkeeper
 - 
12
 - 
6
C. Bonet
Defender
 - 
4
D. Verón
Defender
 - 
-
M. Samudio
Defender
 - 
-
S. Candia
Defender
 - 
-
 - 
11
Hernán Pérez
Midfielder
 - 
10
 - 
-
2.00
18
2.50
7

Coach/Manager

-
 - 

Coach/Manager

 - 
-
 
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  • Own Goal
  • Penalty
  • Penalty Missed
  • Yellow Card
  • Assist
  • Penalty Save
  • Penalty Shootout Goal
  • Penalty Shootout Miss
  • Yellow Card / Red Card
  • Red Card
  • Substitution IN
  • Substitution OUT
  • Injury
  • Goal.com Rating
  • Goal.com Man of the Match
  • Goal.com Flop of the Match
  • Top & Flop Global Ranking
  • Fans' Man of the Match
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Results
Matchday 7
Times In EDT
 
Top Scorers
Player   Goals Penalties
Luis Suárez Luis Suárez
Striker
Liverpool
11 2
Lionel Messi Lionel Messi
Striker
Barcelona
10 3
Radamel Falcao Radamel Falcao
Striker
AS Monaco
9 3
Gonzalo Higuaín Gonzalo Higuaín
Striker
Napoli
9 0
Felipe Caicedo Felipe Caicedo
Striker
Al Jazira
7 4