Football: Messi scores on Argentina return in 3-0 win over Venezuela

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after World Cup qualification match in Buenos Aires on March 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BUENOS AIRES (REUTERS) - Argentina scored twice in three minutes late in the second half, including a curiously mis-hit effort from Lionel Messi, to cement a 3-0 win over Venezuela in Friday's (March 25) World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires.

Argentina had already qualified for Qatar 2022 before the game and were on top throughout against the last-placed side in the South American qualifying group and the only one of the 10 South American sides never to reach the World Cup finals.

They got the breakthrough their pressure deserved 10 minutes before half-time when Nicolas Gonzalez knocked home Rodrigo de Paul's inviting low cross from six metres out.

Substitute Angel di Maria scored a lovely second in 79 minutes when he ran on to a through pass from de Paul and then chipped the ball over three Venezuelan defenders from outside the box.

Messi himself got the third three minutes later when he chested down a di Maria pass before sclaffing the ball past a helpless goalkeeper, Wuilker Farinez.

"We are very happy," said de Paul. "We love playing in this shirt. The best thing about this group is that it treats every game as a final.

"This is what it's all about. Never letting up."

The defeat was Venezuela's 10th in their last 12 games and the win extended Argentina's unbeaten run under coach Lionel Scaloni to 30 games going back to July 2019.

The home side, who were without four players suspended for breaching Covid-19 quarantine rules ahead of September's suspended game against Brazil, have never lost to Venezuela in eight home qualifiers.

The two-time world champions and current Copa America winners will be joined in Qatar by Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay, while Peru, Colombia and Chile are battling for fifth place and a play-off spot against a team from the Asian confederation.

The final round of games takes place next Tuesday.

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