Lionel Messi opened the scoring with a brilliant free kick and laid on two goals as Argentina put their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track with a resounding 3-0 win over Colombia on Tuesday night.
The three points lifted Messi’s team into fifth place in the South American group with 19 points, one behind Ecuador and Chile.
Brazil, away to Peru in Lima in a later match, top the table with 24 points while Uruguay are second with 23 after a 3-1 loss to Chile in Santiago. Colombia dropped to sixth on 18 points.
The top four go through to the 2018 finals in Russia with the fifth, at present Argentina, qualifying for an intercontinental playoff for another berth.
Argentina took a ninth-minute lead when Messi curled his free kick over the wall and into the top left corner of the leaping David Ospina’s net off the underside of the bar.
Falcao came close for Colombia at the other end when he headed James Rodriguez’s free kick just over Sergio Romero’s bar after 18 minutes.
Five minutes later Messi’s superb ball over the defence was met on the edge of the six-yard box with a firm header into the bottom far corner by Lucas Pratto.
Colombia pushed Argentina back in the second half though the home side threatened again when Messi fed Angel Di Maria but his shot from a tight angle hit the post.
Di Maria did score seven minutes from time after Messi cheekily stole the ball from a defender on the right wing, raced into the box and laid the ball square where the winger blasted it into the roof of the net.
Rodriguez hit the post with a free kick in stoppage time with Colombia’s last chance of the match.
Meanwhile, Messi has led the Argentina squad in a media boycott following “grave” press reports about the team and their recent form. The 29-year-old announced the ban after scoring in the side’s 3-0 victory over Colombia.
A radio report alleged that forward Ezequiel Lavezzi smoked marijuana after a training session, which he denies.
“We’ve received many accusations, a lot of lack of respect and we never said anything,” Messi said.
Messi and the 25-man squad walked out of the news conference following the Colombia game.
It was also announced that Lavezzi is taking the radio reporter to court over the accusations.
“We know there are lots of you who are not in the game of not showing us respect, but getting into one’s personal life is very grave,” Messi added.
Argentina were criticised following their 3-0 defeat by Brazil on Friday but their win over Colombia moved them up to fifth place and back into qualifying contention.
Elsewhere in the group, Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Chile beat Uruguay 3-1 to stay third.
Chile had been warned by Arsene Wenger that it would be “suicidal” to play Sanchez unless he was fully fit after he injured a muscle in training.
However Sanchez played 85 minutes and looks set to be fit for Arsenal’s Premier League match against Manchester United on Saturday