THE DAY REPLAYED - Argentina picked up a third straight win to keep their one hundred per cent record intact and cement their position at the top of the South American qualifying group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Paraguay moved into second place courtesy of a thumping 5-1 defeat of Ecuador, a result that prompted Tricolor coach Luis Suarez to call it a day.
Sunday's showdown at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo proved to be a cracker. A fluent Uruguay side deservedly took the lead through Luis Suarez's right-footed finish. The hosts then inexplicably fell asleep in a 15-minute period after the restart, time enough for veteran marksman Marcelo Salas to snatch a brace and put the Chileans ahead. The Celeste reacted just in time, however, with Sebastian Abreu slotting a late equaliser after a fine run by Suarez down the left flank. In an exciting finale both sides went in search of the winner, the home side coming closer as La Roja clung on for a useful point.
While it was no real surprise to see Paraguay get the better of Ecuador in Asuncion, the emphatic 5-1 scoreline was wholly unexpected. Guarani coach Gerardo Martino was rewarded for his bold decision to line up with three out-and-out strikers as his charges dominated from start to finish. Having lost 5-0 away to Brazil in the last round of games, this second consecutive thrashing proved too much to bear for Tricolor boss Luis Suarez, who resigned after the game.
Player of the day
Marcelo Salas (CHI)
El Matador may be the wrong side of 30 but his goalscoring instincts are as sharp as ever. Salas' two-goal salvo in Montevideo gave his side a precious point against Uruguay, the first of them coming when he rose above the Celeste defence to cancel out Luis Suarez's opener. The evergreen sharpshooter then kept his nerve from the spot to put the visitors ahead and prove to the watching world he still has plenty to offer at the highest level.
Argentina were coasting at 2-0 when Lionel Messi received a short pass on the right, just inside his own half. La Pulga spun away from his marker and tore down the flank at speed before cutting inside, leaving a couple of opponents trailing in his wake. As he bore down on the area, the Barcelona man slipped the ball to the unmarked Juan Roman Riquelme on the left side of the box. The former Boca playmaker curled the ball into the top corner of Carlos Arias's goal with a delicious first-time strike to score his fourth goal of the qualifying campaign and stay firmly on top of the scoring charts.
It was another easy day at the office for Argentina as they romped to a 3-0 defeat of Bolivia. That said, Alfio Basile's side struggled to find their rhythm early on and it was not until Sergio Aguero opened the scoring four minutes before half-time that they clicked into gear. Victory was sealed after the break when sorcerer-in-chief Riquelme conjured up two more spectacular strikes. With a flawless record of three games, three wins, seven goals scored and none conceded, the numbers are starting to add up for the awesome Albiceleste.
Another team yet to concede are Colombia, who host the group leaders this week. The Cafeteros picked up three points with a deserved 1-0 defeat of Venezuela in Bogota, controlling proceedings throughout but having to wait until the 82 nd minute to get their just desserts when full back Ruben Bustos stroked home a free kick. The win takes Jorge Pinto's men into fourth place, four points behind the runaway Argentinians.
In the final match of the weekend Peru and Brazil fought out a compelling 1-1 draw in Lima. Kaka looked to have set the visitors on the road to victory when he shot them into the lead from just outside the area. The Brazilians sat back, however, and with Ronaldinho failing to ignite, they were made to pay for their lack of adventure when Juan Vargas equalised with 20 minutes to go. Dunga's men almost stole victory in the final seconds when Juan nodded against the bar but had to be content with a second successive draw on the road so far.
The numbers game
Sunday's draw in Montevideo was the very first point Chile have ever secured in Uruguay in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, La Roja finally bringing to an end a dismal run of five defeats on Charrúa soil. There was still no joy for Bolivia in Buenos Aires, however, as they registered their seventh qualifying defeat in the Argentinian capital.
Matchday four takes place later this week and the pick of the games is at the Estadio Morumbi in Sao Paulo, where Brazil host Uruguay in the latest instalment in a long-running rivalry. Other highlights include Argentina's visit to Colombia and Paraguay's trip to Chile. Ecuador-Peru and Venezuela-Bolivia round off the midweek ties.