Lionel Messi scored twice as Argentina won 5-2 at Paraguay to qualify for next year’s soccer World Cup with two matches to spare.
World player of the year Messi converted two penalty kicks in Asuncion last night, while Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez added goals as the two-time world champions moved to 29 points atop South America’s nine-team group.
The victory guaranteed Argentina a top-four place and an 11th straight berth at soccer’s four-yearly showpiece. The top four nations in the South American standings after 16 matches advance to the 32-team tournament in Brazil, with the fifth-placed country playing off for another spot against Jordan, the winner of Asia’s qualifying playoff.
Second-place Colombia, which could have sealed a World Cup berth by avoiding defeat against Uruguay last night, lost 2-0 in Montevideo. Goals in the last 13 minutes from Edinson Cavani and Cristian Stuani kept Uruguay in fifth place ahead of Venezuela, which beat Peru 3-2. Ecuador is fourth following a 1-1 draw in Bolivia.
Argentina joins Australia, Costa Rica, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and the U.S. in securing World Cup berths. Record five-time champion Brazil automatically qualifies as host.
In the Asian playoff, Jordan beat Uzbekistan 9-8 on penalty kicks in Tashkent after the teams drew 1-1 for the second straight week to send their two-game series into a shootout.
Jordan, seeking its first appearance at the four-yearly championship, will host South America’s No. 5 team on Nov. 13 or 14 in the opener of the intercontinental playoff, with the return game scheduled for Nov. 20.