The South American FIFA World Cup™ qualifying competition is living up to its reputation as one of the toughest on the planet, with a mere three points now separating leaders Argentina from sixth-placed Venezuela after Tuesday evening’s eighth round of games.
FIFA.com rounds up the action on a day that ended without a single home win and was also marked by the death of former Chilean goalkeeper Sergio Livingstone, a legend of South American football.
Fresh from ending Uruguay’s 18-match unbeaten run, Colombia handed Chile their first defeat in eight games, coming from behind to win a thrilling game that had a little bit of everything, with no shortage of goalmouth action to go with some feisty tackling and red cards for each side.
Despite falling behind after Chile’s Gary Medel was dismissed 34 minutes in, Los Cafeteros threw everything they had into attack after the break to secure their first win in Santiago in 12 years, one that would have been even more emphatic but for Claudio Bravo’s performance in the home goal. Winners in three of their last four away games, Jose Pekerman’s side have now jumped up to second.
Lacking the poise they have shown in previous games, leaders Argentina had to work harder than expected as they drew 1-1 in Lima, the visitors being grateful to come away with a point. After keeping out a Claudio Pizarro penalty, Sergio Romero was powerless to prevent the Peruvians taking the lead courtesy of Carlos Zambrano’s well-worked goal. Linking up on an all too rare occasion with Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain completed the scoring with a fine right-footed strike before the break.
Meanwhile, Venezuela continue to rewrite their footballing history. The only team on the continent yet to appear at a FIFA World Cup finals, La Vinotinto scored for the first time in Asuncion to sink struggling Paraguay 2-0, both goals coming from Salomon Rondon. The result avenged the Venezuelans’ semi-final defeat to La Albirroja in last year’s Copa America and leaves the Paraguayans with much to do. Bottom of the section with four points, some eight adrift of Chile in fifth, they now face a trip to in-form Colombia in the next round of games.
The last few days will not live long in the memory for Uruguay. Heavily beaten in Colombia on Friday, they were held 1-1 on Tuesday by Ecuador in Montevideo. Just as they had done against Bolivia last week, the visitors took the lead through a Felipe Caicedo spot-kick, though Edinson Cavani hit back with his second goal in 14 qualifying matches to complete the scoring in a game littered with chances. The point left both sides as they were, with El Tricolor in third and La Celeste in fourth.
Player of the day
Daniel Hernandez (VEN)
Handed an unexpected debut in place of the experienced Renny Vega, the 26-year-old Real Valladolid custodian took his opportunity by turning in an excellent display. While the cameras were trained on team-mate Rondon, Hernandez almost stole the show with superb saves from Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Haedo and Jonathan Fabbro, as Venezuela departed Asuncion without conceding a goal for the first time in their history. “Congratulations on your debut, brother,” tweeted Vega, his understudy for the day. “You were the man today, and that’s the direction we want Venezuela to take.”
7 - The number of goals Gonzalo Higuain has now scored in nine FIFA World Cup qualifiers, an average of 0.77 per game. The Real Madrid striker, who also scored four times in as many matches at South Africa 2010, struck his first in his debut qualifying match, also against Peru, on 10 October 2009.
What they said
“The players are as committed as ever but it goes without saying that we haven’t come away with what we wanted from these two games. It was clear for everyone to see: we’re not playing well,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez reacts to his side’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador.