Lionel Messi shone once more in South American World Cup qualifiers on Thursday, leading Argentina with all the goals in its 3-0 home win against Bolivia.
Earlier Uruguay had a 1-0 victory over Ecuador to move into third place on the table.
Messi also became the top scorer in South American football history. The 34-year-old has netted 79 for Argentina, overtaking Brazil’s Pelé’s tally of 77.
Leader Brazil, with 21 points, will finish the round later against Peru.
Brazil and Argentina will have one match less than the competition after this international window since their superclasico on Sunday was suspended. FIFA is yet to decide what will happen with the match, shockingly stopped after Brazilian health agents sought to remove four Argentinian players for allegedly providing false information to authorities.
The top four teams in South American qualifiers get direct spots at next year’s World Cup in Qatar, and the fifth-place team will go into an intercontinental playoff.
Messi opened the way for Argentina at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires in front of about 20,000 lucky fans in the 14th minute. He moved the ball between a Bolivian defender’s legs and shot from outside the box to the right of goalkeeper Carlos Lampe.
He once more showed style to add the second in the 64th minute. Messi and striker Lautaro Martinez exchanged four quick passes to put the six-time Ballon D’Or winner in great position. He still had time to dribble past one defender before scoring.
Messi completed his hat-trick in the 88th minute from close range after getting a rebound from Lampe.
Argentina now has 18 points in second place. Bolivia remains in ninth position with six.
Uruguay managed to get a last-minute home win against Ecuador which was key for its hopes to qualify for the World Cup. The header by Gastón Pereiro in stoppage time allowed Uruguay to add 15 points and take Ecuador’s third place on the table. The Ecuadorians remain with 13 points, in fourth, also well positioned to go to Qatar next year.
Colombia also got an important 3-1 home victory against Chile in a great performance by striker Miguel Borja. He scored the first from the spot in the 19th minute and added another one minute later. Chile reduced the deficit in the 56th minute with Jean Menezes, but Luis Diaz added the final goal for Colombia in the 74th minute.
Also on Thursday, Paraguay beat Venezuela 2-1. The hosts scored with David Martinez and Alejandro Romero in the 7th and 46th minutes. The visitors netted their only goal in the 90th minute with Jhon Chancellor.