Argentina ease past Bolivia as Lionel Messi scores his 50th goal for country
Lionel Messi brought up his half-century of international goals for Argentina as he inspired an easy 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bolivia in Cordoba.
The 28-year-old's 29th-minute penalty took him to just six behind leading scorer Gabriel Batistuta's tally of 54 and on this evidence it will only be a matter of time before he breaks the record.
Messi had a hand in Gabriel Mercado's opener as well as Argentina coasted to a third successive qualifying win, which should have been by a far greater margin.
Fresh from an impressive 2-1 win over Chile on Thursday, this was expected to be a far easier ride for Gerardo Martino's men and that is how it proved to be as they controlled proceedings from the off.
It took them 20 minutes to make the breakthrough and owed much to Messi's superb vision.
After being fouled 30 yards out, the Barcelona star took the free kick quickly and released Gonzalo Higuain into the area. The Napoli striker lifted the ball over the advancing Carlos Lampe and was set to score only for some fine defending by Ronald Eguino to clear the ball off the line.
But the loose ball fell at Mercado's feet six yards out and the defender made no mistake for his second goal in two games.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0 as Messi brought up his 50th international goal from the spot.
Ever Banega's surging run was brought to an end by a trailing leg of a Bolivian defender and Messi made no mistake from 12 yards.
Inevitably Messi was at the heart of everything Argentina were doing.
A trademark jinking run, which saw four defenders left in his wake, set up Higuain on the edge of the area, but he put his shot inches wide, while Messi sent a header just past the post after the restart.
The wave of home attacks did not cease as Angel Correa's low shot on the turn was well saved by Campe, Lucas Biglia drilled wide from the edge of the area while Campe again provided heroics to turn Messi's 25-yard free-kick over the crossbar.
Martino's men had to settle for just the two goals, though, as they took their tally to 11 points from their six qualifying games and look to be well on the road to Russia.