Lavezzi scores two as Argentina make light of Messi absence

By Luis Ampuero

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Striker Ezequiel Lavezzi scored two first half goals as Argentina, lacking four key players including Lionel Messi, beat Peru 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier at the Monumental on Friday.

The team, captained by winger Angel Di Maria for the first time and with Sergio Aguero wearing Messi's number 10 shirt, lacked their usual spark but were too slick for Peru.

Argentina, who qualified last month for the 2014 finals in Brazil, wanted to make sure they stayed top of the South American group with one match to go, at Uruguay in Montevideo on Tuesday.

Also missing midfielders Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago, coach Alejandro Sabella fielded reserves Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio up front with Aguero.

"I think that fortunately I made the most of my chance (in the team). I'm happy because the team were missing some important players and we won again," Lavezzi said.

"It's important that the forwards score, it means we're in good shape."

Peru, who had long lost their chances of reaching the finals, began with purpose and their quest for a rare win was rewarded with a fine goal by striker Claudio Pizarro with a long-range shot that dipped over goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Argentina's reply was quick with Lavezzi firing home at a corner less than two minutes later in the 23rd when goalkeeper Diego Penny failed to hold a header by central defender Federico Fernandez.

The home side went ahead in the 35th when Di Maria put Palacio in possession on the right and Lavezzi, racing down the middle, turned his cross into the net.

Palacio scored Argentina's third from left back Marcos Rojo's cross two minutes after the interval.

(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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