THE DAY REPLAYED. Argentina and Colombia were victorious on their respective visits to Chile and Bolivia, in the process bunching together the standings in the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with all but one fixture from Matchday 5 having been played.
They say that the table does not lie and that is certainly true here: we now find six teams separated by just two points below Ecuador, who remain the pace-setters despite surrendering their 100 per cent record, having snatched a last-gasp equaliser against Paraguay in Quito. One team who failed to join the chasing pack are Peru, who nevertheless did at least avoid a first home qualifiers defeat by Venezuela with the last attack of the match. With the heavyweight showdown between Brazil and Uruguay still to come later today, Friday 25, the matchday has so far featured three stoppage-time goals and not a single home win.
FIFA.com rounds up all the action.
Match of the day
Chile 1-2 Argentina
Felipe Gutierrez 10; Angel Di Maria 19, Gabriel Mercado 24
Comprehensive payback it was not, but Argentina went a small way towards settling the score on their return to Chile's Estadio Nacional for the first time since being beaten in the Copa America final, prevailing 2-1 to move into the automatic qualification berths. After going behind, La Albiceleste turned the game around with two goals in the space of five minutes, Di Maria curling home exquisitely with his right foot before Mercado opened his international account.
The visitors' second straight away victory served to end their opponents' six-match unbeaten home run in qualifying. La Roja, whose new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi kicked off his reign by losing not just the game but also two starters to injury in the first half, had not succumbed in a qualifier in front of their own fans since none other than Argentina came away with a 2-1 win in October 2012.
"We got off to a bad start against Ecuador, but we have been able to bounce back with the three points in Colombia and here. We're right back on track," said Lionel Messi after his side's triumph.
Ecuador dropped their first points on the road to Russia, being held 2-2 by Paraguay in Quito. However, Angel Mena's strike in added time preserved their undefeated start and secured outright top spot for at least another matchday. Despite Enner Valencia notching during the hosts' best spell of the game, two goals from Dario Lezcano – one in each half – had left La Albirroja staring an upset in the face. Christian Noboa created the late equaliser to cap a livewire performance in which he hit the woodwork three times.
Two pieces of interplay between James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca in the first period looked to have set Colombia on course for a comfortable victory in La Paz. Bolivia came roaring back after the interval, however, getting back on terms through Juan Arce's penalty and an Alejandro Chumacero screamer before forcing visiting goalkeeper David Ospina to the fore to keep it all square. That set the stage for a grandstand finish in which Cafeteros coach Jose Pekerman's substitutions paid off, with Marlos Moreno setting up fellow substitute Edwin Cardona to make it 3-2 in injury time. The Colombians have now triumphed on their last two trips to Bolivia in qualifying.
Venezuela were on the verge of pulling off a shock in Lima, only for another late goal, this one courtesy of Raul Ruidiaz, to seal a 2-2 draw that does neither country's hopes any real favours. Romulo Otero and Mikel Villanueva had struck in either half, the former from the spot, to fire La Vinotinto into a commanding position, but they were unable to finish the job to claim their first victory in the Peruvian capital in eight attempts – instead having to settle for a first point there since 2004. Paolo Guerrero got the comeback under way for the hosts to become the joint-top scorer in Peru's history with 26 goals, having drawn level with the legendary Teofilo Cubillas.
Player of the day
Dario Lezcano (Paraguay)
The 25-year-old Ingolstadt forward is fast establishing himself as Paraguay's designated goal-getter under Ramon Diaz, who handed him his international debut against Argentina earlier in this qualifying campaign. Having netted against Bolivia last time out, Lezcano showcased his credentials again in Quito with two predatory finishes. He is currently La Albirroja's leading marksman in these qualifiers with three goals.
Did you know?
Chile goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo won his 100th cap for La Roja against Argentina, becoming the first player from the country to reach this milestone.
Another man who racked up a century was Colombia's James Rodriguez, in his case plundering the 100th goal of his career when he opened the scoring for his side in La Paz. Fourteen of these strikes have come in senior international action, including an adidas Golden Boot-winning haul at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
What they said
Bueno,a dormir contento con la victoria de mi selección.Abrazo de gol al minuto 92' #CostumbresColombianas
— Radamel Falcao (@FALCAO) March 24, 2016
"Right, I'm off to bed a happy man after my country's win. Goal hugs from the 92nd-minute to you all"
Colombia striker and icon Radamel Falcao tweeted this exultant goodnight message in the wake of his team's World Cup qualifying victory over Bolivia.
Matchday 5 results
Bolivia 2-3 Colombia
Ecuador 2-2 Paraguay
Chile 1-2 Argentina
Peru 2-2 Venezuela
Brazil - Uruguay