Two goals from Gonzalo Higuain were the key for Argentina as the South American giants took another big leap towards Brazil 2014, the Real Madrid star combining expertly with Lionel Messi to take down Venezuela 3-0 at home.
Both of `Pipita`s` strikes were laid on by Lio, who also found his way onto the scoresheet with a powerful penalty during the first half.
Playing in front of their own fans for the first time in 2013, Argentina came out in the Monumental looking for early goals, with Lionel Messi looking to make the difference. The Barcelona wizard had the crowd on its feet in the first few minutes when he skipped in on goal in the opening minutes, but his shot was palmed away by Dani Hernandez.
The Albiceleste, still on a high after an unbeaten previous 12 months, looked confident throughout the first half; pushing men forward and looking to stretch a timid Venezuela. Hernandez again saved well from Messi after `La Pulga` played a fluid one-two with Gonzalo Higuain, and Ezequiel Lavezzi just failed to pounce on the rebound with the net gaping. It was not long, however, before the hosts took the initiative.
Walter Montillo had gained a place in the first team thanks to Angel Di Maria`s suspension, and the Santos man was determined to grab it with both hands. A quick pass to Messi was followed with a ball that cut through the away defence, and the beneficiary was Higuain as the striker slotted home clean through against Hernandez. Argentina were now in complete control, Venezuela reduced to spoiling play, with plenty of fouls, to keep a handle on their rivals.
Alejandro Sabella`s men were to go into the break two goals up, albeit thanks to more than a stroke of good fortune. Gabriel Cichero misjudged a ball under pressure in his own box and instinctively threw out an arm to control, an act which immediately led to a penalty in the final minutes of the half. There was no doubt over who would take the kick: Messi placed the ball on the spot, and blasted an unstoppable effort past Hernandez to send Argentina into the break in a comfortable position.
The Vinotinto keeper was beginning to loathe the sight of the little No. 10, and he again had to stop Messi minutes after the restart. Showing incredible balance and control, Lio weaved through the defence and tried to lift the ball over Hernandez, who managed to get enough of his body in the way to prevent a third. Montillo also went close after a fantastic turn from Fernando Gago, his shot floating just wide of the right-hand post.
Just before the hour-mark, the two goalscorers combined again to end the game as a contest. Messi made space in the middle and showed his vision to release a perfect pass; and even if there was more than a suspicion of offside surrounding Higuain when the ball was played, there was no doubt about a supremely cool finish that put the Madrid man out in front as top scorer in the qualifiers.
Venezuela still chased a consolation, and went close thanks to a great individual move from Cichero. The full-back was keen to redeem himself and blasted his way to the byline, but his low cross was spooned over by substitute Romulo Otero with the defence dishevelled and the goal gaping. It was all to no avail, however; Argentina were already on the way to victory, and the Albiceleste continue their seemingly unstoppable march to the World Cup in just over 12 months time.
The win puts Sabella`s men four points clear of Colombia at the top of Conmebol`s standings. Venezuela, meanwhile, will drop out of the places for Brazil if Chile take anything from their clash against Peru in Lima, as they stay on 12 points.