Argentina lost to Venezuela in October, but there was no chance of the CONMEBOL qualifying leaders repeating that performance in Buenos Aires on Friday. Inspired by Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, the hosts cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory, keeping them four points ahead of the impressive Colombia.
Venezuela were looking in reasonable shape for most of the opening thirty minutes. Daniel Hernandez only had two saves to make during that spell -- one on Lionel Messi and then another when Pablo Zabaleta tried to convert the rebound. Eventually, however, Argentina's class told.
Gonzalo Higuain had already been denied by an excellent sliding block by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo when it looked as though he'd be able to poke into an unguarded goal, but when the Real Madrid striker was played in behind the back line thanks to an incisive Messi pass, he made no mistake, stroking past Hernandez and into the bottom corner. 29 minutes had passed.
And Venezuela didn't manage to keep the deficit at one goal before the half ended. Zabaleta wanted a penalty for handball when Andrés Túñez blocked his cross, but although the right back's appeals were denied the hosts would get a spot kick a few seconds later. Gabriel Cichero brought the ball down with his shoulder, but Victor Carillo made the rather odd decision that he'd used his arm, and that left Messi free to smash home the penalty.
Messi had a chance to make it three immediately after halftime, but Hernandez managed to get a vital block in and then Walter Montillo botched a chip when given sight of goal a few minutes later. Higuain, however, was having none of that nonsense -- he made the most of a blown offside call and poked home to give his side an unassailable lead.
Rómulo Otero had a chance to reply immediately, but, after great work from Salomon Rondon on the Venezuela right, he rushed his free shot in the six-yard box and blasted well over Sergio Romero's crossbar. He did a little better in the 81st minute from a similar position, but Romero was equal to the chance and preserved his clean sheet.
Argentina, of course, were going to get all three points no matter what. And so they did.