Neymar, Messi, Suárez impress in World Cup qualifying

SAO PAULO (AP) — Neymar and Luis Suárez rewrote some record books and Argentina is breathing easier thanks to Lionel Messi.

In South American qualifying for the World Cup on Tuesday night, Neymar became Brazil’s second leading goal scorer after a hat trick in a 4-2 win at Peru. Neymar passed Ronaldo and now trails only Pelé.

Messi paced Argentina to a 2-1 win at Bolivia, its first in the altitude of La Paz since 2005. Suárez, despite Uruguay’s 4-2 loss at Ecuador, became the leading goal scorer in the history of South American qualifying.

As the “MSN” trio, they helped Barcelona win the Champions League, two Spanish leagues, one Club World Cup and three Copa del Rey. Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and Suárez transferred to Atlético Madrid only weeks ago. Messi remains at the Catalan club but has expressed his desire to leave.

The 33-year-old Messi, who could be heading to his last World Cup, had never won in La Paz. In 2009, he was on the field as his team was routed 6-1 by the Bolivians. Three years ago, Argentina lost 2-0 without him. Tuesday’s match looked doomed to follow suit after Bolivia opened the scoring.

But Messi’s calm allowed Argentina to play without the angst of previous disappointments. The final reward came after Joaquin Correa scored in the 79th minute after a play started by Messi. Coach Lionel Scaloni hopes the win is a sign that they are capable of improving on recent World Cup performances.

“A great win in the altitude, where it always costs more,” Messi said on Instagram, referring to playing at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level.

Hours later, Neymar showed that Brazil should be a team to watch in Qatar in 2022. He scored twice from the spot and once in added time — to put his team as co-leaders of the South American qualifiers.

Neymar’s historic moment came when he converted his second penalty. It was his 63rd goal for Brazil, passing Ronaldo. Pelé has 77 goals.

The 28-year-old Brazilian used his social media channels to celebrate, posting a picture of Ronaldo and a message that read: “All my respect for you, Phenomenon.”

Brazil coach Tite hailed Neymar’s achievement but avoided comparisons.

“It is unfair to compare the phases of each one. But what I can say is that Neymar has this unpredictability, he is both a bow and an arrow. He assists and finishes,” the coach said. “He getting even better and even more mature.”

Suárez scored three times from the spot in his last two matches for Uruguay — to tie and then surpass Messi as the leading goal scorer in the history of South American qualifying. His 24 goals are two more than Messi.

Suárez said after the 2-1 win against Chile on Friday that his move to Atlético Madrid has given him new energy to keep scoring for his national team.

“I feel their care for me there,” he said. “It is a different moment and I think that also helps me when I come here.”

The 33-year-old striker will have a chance to add to his tally next month as Uruguay faces Colombia away and Brazil in Montevideo. Neymar will also have a chance to reduce the gap between himself and Pelé.

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