Messi’s Ar­gentina thrashed 3-0

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Rio de Janeiro: Brazil dealt Ar­gentina’s hopes of reach­ing the 2018 World Cup fi­nals a se­ri­ous blow on Thurs­day with a re­sound­ing 3-0 win that dropped the world’s top ranked side into sixth place in the 10-team South Amer­i­can qual­i­fy­ing group.

It leaves the pos­si­bil­ity of a show­down be­tween Lionel Messi’s side and the All Whites for a fi­nal World Cup spot well and truly in play, though there’s plenty of water to flow un­der that bridge yet. First half goals from Philippe Coutinho and Ney­mar were fol­lowed by a third from Paulinho after 58 min­utes to sink the Ar­gen­tines and ex­tend their win­less run to four games. Brazil re­main top of the group with 24 points from 11 games. Ar­gentina are now sixth on 16 points, with the top four teams qual­i­fy­ing au­to­mat­i­cally for the fi­nals in Rus­sia and the fifth-placed side go­ing into a play-off with the Ocea­nia win­ners. “To­day we im­posed our­selves, the fans helped from the first minute and we leave here very happy,” Coutinho said. Messi, who re­turned to the side after three games out in­jured, was anony­mous in a match lit up by bril­liant mo­ments from the home side. Brazil took the lead after 24 min­utes when Ney­mar slipped the ball to Philippe Coutinho on the left with the deftest of touches and the Liver­pool mid­fielder ham­mered an un­stop­pable drive into the top cor­ner of the net. The Barcelona striker was lucky not to con­cede a penalty after he han­dled in the box 12 min­utes later but he was al­ways dan­ger­ous at the other end and he dou­bled Brazil’s lead just sec­onds be­fore half time when he coolly slot­ted home after tak­ing a de­fence-split­ting pass from Gabriel Je­sus.

Paulinho sealed it 13 min­utes into the sec­ond pe­riod when the mid­fielder charged into the box be­tween de­fend­ers and poked home a cross from Re­nato Au­gusto. Brazil were dom­i­nant in a ram­pant sec­ond half and could have scored more with Ney­mar and sub­sti­tute Robero Firmino both com­ing close. In the evening’s other games, Peru got four goals in the sec­ond half to beat Paraguay 4-1 away in Asun­cion, while Venezuela thrashed Bo­livia 5-0. Ear­lier, Colom­bia drew 0-0 at home to Chile and stay in third, while Uruguay beat Ecuador 2-1 to re­main sec­ond. - AAP But the most en­cour­ag­ing el­e­ment Hud­son spoke of to­day was the im­proved ma­tu­rity in his squad. Hud­son pre­dicted New Cale­do­nia would en­counter a much more con­fi­dent New Zealand squad than in re­cent out­ings when the Is­land min­nows had caused the All Whites con­sid­er­able grief.

New Zealand Foot­ball still look back in hor­ror to 2012 when New Cale­do­nia stunned the All Whites 2-0 in Ho­niara at the Ocea­nia Na­tions Cup, cost­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion $1.3 mil­lion, as the re­sult meant they failed to qual­ify for the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in Brazil. The All Whites last played New Cale­do­nia in June, win­ning 1-0 in Pa­pua New Guinea in a Na­tions Cup match but they were far from im­pres­sive.

“It was a strange day,” Hud­son re­called to­day. “We had so many things hap­pen that day. “Men­tally, we put so much pres­sure on our­selves. That in­cluded play­ers and staff be­cause of what had hap­pened in Ho­niara four years ago. It was like this dark cloud over us. It was a semi­fi­nal, it was the same team and we had to win at all costs. So it was too much ‘gotta win-win-win’ as op­posed to ev­ery other game where we just stuck to our plan and did what we said we would do. “But we’re a com­pletely dif­fer­ent team to the team we were in the semi­fi­nal against New Cale­do­nia last time. We’re a com­pletely dif­fer­ent team to the one we were in Ho­niara. We just need to have a fresh ap­proach and make sure we leave ev­ery­body in the sta­dium Lon­don: Arse­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger has urged Chile not to risk for­ward Alexis Sanchez in their World Cup qual­i­fier against Uruguay.

The 27-year-old missed Chile’s 0-0 draw against Colom­bia on Thurs­day after pick­ing up a mus­cle in­jury. Chile’s med­i­cal staff hoped he would re­cover in time for Tues­day’s game against Uruguay in San­ti­ago. “He al­ways wants to play and he’s al­ways ready to play even when in­jured,” Wenger told beIn Sports. Sanchez, who has scored eight goals in all com­pe­ti­tions for Arse­nal this sea­son, was side­lined for two months last sea­son after in­jur­ing his ham­string. “It’s a grey area be­tween the na­tional team and the club team and we have to pre­serve the health of Alexis Sanchez,” Wenger added. “We have to get ac­cess for our med­i­cal staff to the MRI scan to see what grade it is and make ab­so­lutely sure they don’t make any de­ci­sion that could harm his fu­ture.” -BBC Sports

An­thony Hud­son

Arsene Wenger

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