SAN JUAN, Argentina, Nov 15 (Reuters) - 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.
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.
Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Greg Stutchbury