- *Wins for Paraguay and Peru move them into contention *
- Argentina and Uruguay cancel each other out
- Brazil make sure of top spot in the table
THE DAY REPLAYED. Paraguay’s surprise win in Chile and Peru’s home defeat of Bolivia grabbed the headlines on Matchday 15 of the South American qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and helped them to put pressure on the teams immediately above them in the table.
Though both sides are still out of the direct qualification places and the play-off berth, they have closed right up on Colombia, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, while also leapfrogging Ecuador.
With just three rounds of games remaining, a mere five points separate the Colombians in second and the Ecuadorians in eighth as the battle for the remaining three and a half qualifying slots heats up.
High above the fight are Brazil, who have now ensured that they will finish top of the table for the third time in the last four qualifying competitions.
*Match of the day *Chile 0-3 Paraguay *
Arturo Vidal 24 og, Victor Caceres 55, Richard Ortiz 90
*Francisco Arce’s side barely put a foot wrong in Santiago, showing admirable focus at the back and a cutting edge up front to record a win that boosts both their points tally and morale. “It’s a big step and we’re right back in the fight now,” said their coach Francisco Arce, who won in Chile as a player in 2003, in the qualifiers for Germany 2006.
*Elsewhere *Though Colombia would be entitled to feel they dropped two points in San Cristobal, it turned out to be not such a bad day at the office for them. The visitors created plenty of opportunities, all of them capably dealt with by Vinotinto keeper Wuilker Farinez, one of the three newly crowned FIFA U-20 World Cup champions handed a start by Rafael Dudamel. Venezuela created opportunities of their own, however, with Cafetero keeper David Ospina doing his bit to ensure honours remained even.
Despite the presence of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani and one side and Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi on the other, Uruguay and Argentina could not conjure up a goal between them at a packed Estadio Centenario. The visitors, in Jorge Sampaoli first official match in charge, did most of the attacking, though both sides were reasonably content with the draw.
Peru were made to sweat as they picked up a precious three points against Bolivia. Forced to work hard to open up a two-goal lead, achieved thanks to superb strikes by Edison Flores and Christian Cueva, they then had to fight to protect a slender advantage after Gilbert Alvarez pulled one back. The hard-fought win has given the Peruvians a genuine chance of qualifying.
Ecuador continued their bad run in Porto Alegre, suffering a third straight defeat that saw them slip from sixth to eighth in the table. Gustavo Quinteros’ side held firm for 70 minutes but could not recover from Paulinho’s opener. A fine Coutinho goal then secured the points for the Brazilians.
Player of the day Edison Flores (Peru)
Peru’s chances of making it to Russia were fading fast when Flores conjured up a powerful left-footed drive to set them on course for a vital win. The 23-year-old midfielder has been instrumental in their resurgence, having scored in four of their last six qualifying matches.
*Did you know? *Having begun his Brazil tenure with a qualifying win over Ecuador in Quito on 1 September 2016, Tite ended his first year in charge with another victory over the Ecuadorians. The coach has a perfect record of nine wins out of nine so far. Those 27 points would have been enough to take his side to the top of the qualifying table, even without the nine they collected under his predecessor Dunga.
*The stat 6 - *the number of times Argentina have failed to score in this qualifying campaign, in 15 matches, their worst record since the Germany 2006 preliminaries, when they went goalless in five of their 18 games.
What they said *“We need to be a lot more aggressive in the final third of the pitch, control possession and get more people into the box. We need to find space. We’ve got ground to make up in the table and that’s really putting us on edge. You have to remember that the qualifiers are sometimes harder than the World Cup itself.”
*Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli