Friday 06 October 2017, 04:37

Suspense aplenty as South American race goes to the wire

THE DAY REPLAYED: Matchday 17 of the South American qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ showed once again just how unpredictable and exciting the preliminaries can be in this part of the world. The last 11 minutes of the three matches played at the same time served up five goals and saw the teams involved swap positions in the table.

Colombia seemed all but certain to qualify for Russia only to then concede two late, late goals to Paraguay, a dramatic turn of events that now leaves Los Cafeteros with a do-or-die trip to Peru. For their part, Chile moved into the direct qualifying places, dropped out of them altogether with three minutes remaining of their match with Ecuador and then ended the night in third place.

Lionel Messi and Argentina endured an agonising night on which they slipped out of the play-off place, moved back into it and then ended up in sixth, the reason for that being their inability to break down a solid Peru side, who now occupy the play-off berth. looks back on a night that followed a truly dramatic script, one that left Uruguay on the verge of qualification and guaranteed a play-off place at the very least.

Matchday 17 results *5 October *Bolivia 0-0 Brazil Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay Chile 2-1 Ecuador Colombia 1-2 Paraguay Argentina 0-0 Peru

Match of the day Colombia 1-2 Paraguay

  • COL: Radamel Falcao 79; PAR: Oscar Cardozo 89, Antonio Sanabria 90*

Radamel Falcao’s goal 11 minutes from time had the fans partying in the stands at Barranquilla, with results elsewhere giving Los Cafeteros a virtual place at Russia 2018. A lot can happen in 11 minutes, however, as Oscar Cardozo and Antonio Sanabria proved by striking late on to silence the crowd.

Paraguay’s win was their third in five visits to Colombia and has put them firmly in contention. One point adrift of the play-off place, the Paraguayans entertain Venezuela in their final match, while Colombia will travel to Lima needing at least a draw.

Elsewhere Argentina’s woes continued at La Bombonera, leaving them with a must-win trip to Quito next week. They found space at a premium against a well-drilled Peru side, reviving memories of that fateful night in 1969, when La Bicolor secured a draw at Boca Juniors’ home ground to knock La Albiceleste out of the running for Mexico 1970, the one and only time they have failed to reach the world finals. The hosts created chances, but could not put any of them away.

The remaining drama on a heart-stopping evening was provided by Chile and Ecuador. Eduardo Vargas gave La Roja the lead on 22 minutes, and with Argentina being held to a draw, they were sitting in the top four. Renato Ibarra’s equaliser with eight minutes remaining saw Pizzi’s side drop out of the qualification places altogether, only for Alexis Sanchez to pop up with five minutes remaining to catapult them into third place, an outcome that looked highly unlikely at the start of the evening.

Though a win in San Cristobal would have secured them a place in Russia, Uruguay were in no mood to take unnecessary risks. Though they recorded their highest pass-completion rate of the qualifiers (76 per cent), they lacked a cutting edge up front and settled for a draw that guarantees them a play-off place at the very least. All in all, it was a satisfactory night for a young Venezuela side that continues to pick up experience as it plans for the Qatar 2022 qualifiers.

Brazil were held to a goalless draw in La Paz, where they have failed to win since 1985. The main reason for that was Bolivia keeper Carlos Lampe, who denied the marauding visitors with no fewer than 11 saves, a record for this particular qualifying competition. The point at least stretched Brazil coach Tite’s unbeaten start to his tenure to 11 games, a run made up of nine wins and two draws.

Player of the day *Pedro Gallese (Peru)*

The Peru keeper broke a finger in his right hand at the end of August, an injury that left him in tears. He made his return at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, and the occasion could hardly have gone better for him. Twice Dario Benedetto was put through on goal and twice Gallese denied him, with the keeper also working wonders to keep out a Lucas Biglia drive and pulling off a superb near-post stop to thwart Alejandro Gomez. A calming presence for his defence, the Peru keeper helped secure a result that now has a nation dreaming.

Did you know? Paraguay’s late show in Colombia was the third time they have won a World Cup qualifier in stoppage time and the second time they have done so against Los Cafeteros, the first having come in 1989. La Albirroja also scored an injury-time winner against Chile in 2001.

The stat 435 - the number of minutes that have now gone by since an Argentina player last scored: Lionel Messi from the penalty spot against Chile. La Albiceleste have since gone goalless in three games, while their 1-1 draw with Venezuela came courtesy of a Rolf Feltscher own goal.

What they said “We scored again and we got a win that has put us in a better position, but we’re not there yet. We have to keep on fighting. We need to make one last push and we’re confident that we can compete with Brazil.” Chile coach Juan Pizzi