Argentina, Uruguay all square
Brazil sink Ecuador to increase led in World Cup South America qualifying
URUGUAY and Argentina drew 0-0 in an uninspiring but hotly contested World Cup qualifier in Montevideo on Thursday, a result that left both sides still needing points to guarantee a place at Russia 2018.
The home side had the better of the first half and Argentina were on top during the second period but neither team posed much of a goal threat in a typically tense encounter.
Uruguay’s Diego Rodin had a goal chalked off for offside in the first half and Luis Suarez saw his 45-yard attempt to lob keeper Sergio Romero sail narrowly over.
At the other end, Lucas Biglia had a 30-yard strike deflected just wide and Lionel Messi saw a shot turned around the post after a brilliant, jinking run and one-two with Paulo Dybala.
Suarez, who recovered from a right knee injury just in time to play, limped off with eight minutes left but said on Twitter that he had just suffered a cramp. “An important point to keep us going and dreaming of the World Cup,” he tweeted.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made his disappointment clear with the result. “We played against a side that was always trying to shut us down. It’s a bitter taste not winning,” he said, adding that his side must be “more aggressive” in the final third of the field when they play last-placed Venezuela next week.
The draw means Argentina lie fifth place in the South American qualifying table with 23 points, behind Chile on goal difference. Uruguay, who have now gone six games without a win, are a point above them in third.
Brazil, the only one of the 10 teams to have already qualified for Russia, lead the table with 36 points after defeating Ecuador 2-0 at home.
The top four teams qualify automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side goes into a play-off against a rival from the Oceania confederation.
In the region’s other game on Thursday, Artur Vidal scored a spectacular own goal as Chile lost 3-0 at home to Paraguay. Vidal dived to head out a Paraguay free-kick midway through the first half but his header soared into the corner of his own net. Victor Caceres doubled the lead nine minutes into the second period and Richard Ortiz added a third in injury time.
Colombia drew 0-0 at Venezuela and remain in second place with 25 points. Colombia host Brazil on Tuesday, while Uruguay face Paraguay in Asuncion.
Two goals in a four-minute burst helped Peru beat Bolivia 2-1 in Lima to keep their slender hopes alive.
Edison Flores got the first for the home side after 54 minutes and then Christian Cueva then hammered home a second from 20 metres.
Gilbert Alvarez got one back for Bolivia after 71 minutes but Peru held on to leapfrog Paraguay on goal difference into sixth place, just two points behind Argentina.
Second half goals from Paulinho and substitute Philippe Coutinho saved Brazil’s blushes after a poor first half and gave them their deserved 2-0 win over Ecuador in Porto Alegre.
With 23 minutes gone in the second period, Paulinho found himself unmarked at a corner and he had enough time to bring the ball down and hammer it into the roof of the net from eight metres out.
Coutinho, who had replaced Renato Augusto a few moments earlier, grabbed a fine second after 75 minutes when he darted forward and exchanged passes with Gabriel Jesus before firing home from close range.
Brazil now sit atop the group, 11 points clear of second-placed Colombia.
“It was another important result, the run we’re on is very good,” winger Willian said after the game. “The first half was difficult, we couldn’t find space but in the second half we got the ball moving faster and found the way to goal.”
The win was coach Tite’s ninth consecutive victory in competitive matches since he took over as coach in June last year. His revamped side have scored 26 goals and conceded only two in the process.
Ecuador, meanwhile, have stumbled badly after winning all four of their opening qualifiers. The Andean side have picked up maximum points in only two of the 11 since, and this result means they fall to seventh place in the South American qualifying table.
Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifier at home and they never looked in danger against their limited rivals. Neymar produced some flashes of individual brilliance but was not as influential as in the past, and it was the introduction of Coutinho 13 minutes into the second half that turned the game in favour of the home side.