BUENOS AIRES — Lionel Messi scored his third goal in four days to maintain Argentina's grip on top spot in South America's World Cup soccer qualifying with a 2-1 victory over Chile.
Messi added another goal to the double he scored three days earlier to help secure six key points for Argentina, who lead the standings with 20 points.
They are three ahead of Ecuador and four up on Colombia after Ecuador drew 1-1 with Venezuela, Paraguay defeated Peru 1-0 and Bolivia beat Uruguay 4-1. Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela have 12 points each in fourth, with the top four to qualify for the World Cup and the fifth team to face a further playoff.
"It was a good couple of days for us," Messi said.
"Six points against difficult teams like Uruguay and Chile.
But when this resumes in March, it will be just as difficult. But obviously six points help us relax." Messi has 31 goals for Argentina, two behind legendary striker Diego Maradona, with Gabriel Batistuta top of the all-time list with 54. The Barcelona star has 12 goals in eight games this year for Argentina, the main reason they are looking as one of the early favourites to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Messi scored in the 28th minute and Higuain added another in the 31st, before Felipe Gutierrez scored for Chile in second-half stoppage time. In Puerto La Cruz, Segundo Castillo scored in the 24th minute to help Ecuador secure a hard-earned 1-1 draw with Venezuela after Juan Arango had opened the scoring in the sixth minute.