Ar­gentina, Uruguay all square

Brazil sink Ecuador to in­crease led in World Cup South Amer­ica qual­i­fy­ing

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT - REUTERS

Mon­te­v­ideo

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.

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