Football: Lionel Messi rescues Argentina in World Cup qualifier, Paulinho hat-trick helps Brazil thrash Uruguay

Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Chile's Jean Beausejour competing for the ball.
Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Chile's Jean Beausejour competing for the ball. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (REUTERS) - Lionel Messi converted a penalty as Argentina laboured to a 1-0 win over Chile in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday that put them back in the automatic qualifying spots for next year's Finals in Russia.

Messi beat Claudio Bravo from the spot in the 16th minute after Angel di Maria had been pushed from behind in the first quarter of a poor, tense match on a terrible River Plate pitch.

Argentina, a shadow of the team that finished World Cup runners-up in 2014, moved into third place in the 10-nation South American group on 22 points, eight behind leaders Brazil and one in arrears to second-placed Uruguay.

Brazil had beaten Uruguay 4-1 in an earlier match thanks to a hat-trick from Paulinho. The victory gave Tite his eighth win in eight games as coach and lifted Brazil to 30 points in the South American qualifying group, a tally that has been more than enough to guarantee qualification in previous campaigns.

Colombia, who beat Bolivia 1-0 at home, are now in the fourth qualifying place with 21 points, one ahead of Ecuador, who lost 2-1 away to Paraguay and sit in the playoff berth.

"We suffered because we lost the ball but at least we won," relieved Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza told reporters.

Chile, missing suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal but worthy of at least a draw, gave Argentina an early scare when they had the ball in net after a free kick from the left only for Jose Fuenzalida to be ruled offside.

Argentina took the lead when Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci ruled that Fuenzalida had pushed di Maria as he chased a fine through ball from Javier Mascherano.

Messi sent Bravo the wrong way and buried the ball in the back of the net to a roar from a wildly passionate 60,000 crowd at El Monumental.

Stringing moves together was difficult for both teams on a patchy pitch and Argentina were relieved when the final whistle went after withstanding intense pressure from the Copa America holders, who are now sixth in the group on goal difference.

In Montevideo, it was Uruguay that took the lead against Brazil after eight minutes thanks to a penalty from Edinson Cavani.

Marcelo tried to chest down the ball to his goalkeeper but Cavani nipped in to intercept and was pulled down by Alisson. The Paris St Germain striker got up to rifle the ball home low to Alisson's right.

It was the first time that Brazil had gone behind since Tite took over as coach last summer and it only took them 10 minutes to show they would not be bowed.

Neymar laid the ball off to Paulinho in midfield and the former Tottenham midfielder hammered home a spectacular right-foot shot from 30 metres out.

When Brazil took the lead six minutes into the second half, it was again Paulinho who did the damage.

Goalkeeper Martin Silva could only parry Roberto Firmino's shot from the edge of the box and Paulinho was on hand to knock the rebound home from six metres.

Neymar had a quiet game but he got Brazil's third with 16 minutes to go when he seized on a long ball to outrun Sebastian Coates and deftly lob the stranded Silva.

Paulinho got his third and Brazil's fourth in injury time when he cheekily chested home a cross from Dani Alves.