THE DAY REPLAYED - Matchday 13 of the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ saw Brazil pull further clear at the top and the six teams below them bunch even closer together. Only five points now separates second-placed Uruguay and seventh-placed Paraguay, as the battle for the four direct berths and the play-off spot intensifies.

The Uruguayans were sucked back into the pack after suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of the Brazilians in Montevideo, with Tite’s charges opening up a seven-point cushion on the rest of the field and moving to the brink of qualification.

The day’s other four matches were all nerve-ridden, hard-fought encounters, with Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay winning by the narrowest of margins and Ecuador and Chile seeing their prospects take a hit. The two-time reigning Copa America champions now lie sixth, outside the qualification places altogether.

Matchday 13 results
23 March

Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru

The big match
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Lionel Messi 16 (pen)

Messi’s early spot-kick did little to soothe the nerves of Argentina, who struggled to exercise control and were on edge right to the final whistle. In gaining a fourth straight qualifying win over the Chileans, however, La Albiceleste moved up to third place, returning to the top four for the first time since September 2016.

Elsewhere
Brazil put paid to Uruguay’s 100-percent home record in emphatic fashion, despite falling behind to an Edinson Cavani strike. Thanks to an inspired Neymar, who scored one goal, and the superb finishing of Paulinho, who helped himself to a hat-trick, the Brazilians recorded their seventh straight win in the competition, all of them coming since Tite took over as coach.

Though La Celeste stay second, the gap between them and the teams below them in the table closed. One of those sides is Colombia, who gained a vital if unimpressive home win over Bolivia. The leading scorer of the Pekerman era with 18 goals, James Rodriguez got the only goal of the game late on, netting from the rebound after having a penalty saved.

Two mistakes from Ecuador keeper Esteban Dreer allowed Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso to score the goals that gave Paraguay a much-needed win in Asuncion. Felipe Caicedo replied for the visitors from the spot as they slipped to fifth, the first time they have been out of the direct qualification places since last September.

Peru passed up perhaps their last opportunity to move into contention when they were held to a 2-2 draw in Venezuela. Though they fought back from two goals down thanks to Andre Carillo and Paolo Guerrero, the Peruvians find themselves five points adrift of the play-off spot. Mikel Villanueva and Romulo Otero were the men on target for the home side.

Player of the day
Paulinho (Brazil)
The scorer of only one goal in his five previous World Cup qualifiers, the 28-year-old midfielder, who won the adidas Bronze Ball at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 and now plays for Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League, tripled that figure against Uruguay.

What they said
“At half-time I told the players this was one of those games where they had to be careful, because the fans came expecting to see a big win and nice play, which doesn’t always happen in football.”
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman reacts to the 1-0 win over Bolivia
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