Lionel Messi scored once and set up two goals as Argentina beat Venezuela 3-0 to remain in control of the South American qualifying race for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ today.

The Argentina captain was the architect of two Gonzalo Higuain strikes which came either side of an emphatic Messi penalty on the stroke of half-time at the Monumental Stadium. The Barcelona superstar was Argentina's best player throughout, twice forcing Daniel Hernandez into scrambled saves early on before producing the pass which enabled Higuain to break the deadlock on 29 minutes.

Messi then harried Venezuela defender Gabriel Cichero into conceding a penalty, which the diminutive play-maker lashed into the roof of the net for 2-0 in first half stoppage time. A trademark jinking run and through-ball for Higuain gave Argentina their third in the 59th minute as Venezuela kissed goodbye to any chance of repeating their shock 1-0 win over the Argentinians in 2011.

The victory leaves Alejandro Sabella's side four points clear of second-placed Colombia at the top of the standings with 23 points after ten matches. With just six games remaining, only an unthinkable collapse will prevent the Albicelestes from taking their place at next year's finals in Brazil, with a trip to La Paz to face Bolivia on Tuesday their next game.