Argentina took the sole lead of the South American World Cup qualifying group as Lionel Messi inspired them to a comfortable win over Ecuador.
Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Messi and Angel Di Maria scored a goal apiece, but it was the Barcelona man, often a source of frustration to Argentina fans, who took the applause of the home crowd.
Argentina controlled the opening exchanges with Ecuador defending deep and using two or three players to keep Messi in check.
But Messi found space to test keeper Alexander Dominguez with a volley after good work from Fernando Gago and Aguero.
Ecuador responded with a counter-attack as they capitalised on Pablo Zabaleta's slip, but Christian Suarez shot weakly and was denied by Sergio Romero.
Di Maria chipped the ball over the Ecuadorian defence after 20 minutes and Aguero scored with a cross-shot on his 24th birthday.
Then Messi began his masterclass.
First he received the ball from Gago, beat three defenders and set up Higuain, whose classy finish beat Dominguez.
Then he ran 35 yards before passing to Higuain, who returned the ball with his first touch for Messi to guide home his 23rd goal for Argentina.
In the second half, Reinaldo Rueda introduced Jefferson Montero and the Betis player added a little more power to the Ecuadorian attack, as his shot was well saved by Romero.
Argentina were happy to sit back and hit Ecuador on the counter, with Messi bringing a great stop out of Dominguez on one such attack.
Fifteen minutes before the end, Messi rubbed the lamp again with a magical run.
He left four Ecuadorians behind and shot, but the ball hit Jayro Campos.
Substitute Jose Sosa grabbed the rebound and passed to Di Maria, who volleyed home to round off the scoring.
Captain Messi said: ``We've always searched for the connection with the fans. It was a hard game, but we came through it well.
``Now we have to use every game to improve as a team.''
Aguero added: ``It was a very nice birthday present. We're also very happy because the people trust in us again.''
The win put Argentina top of the South American qualifying table with 10 points from five games, one more than Chile and two ahead Uruguay and Venezuela.