- South American qualifying for Qatar 2022 resumed on Thursday
- Ecuador edged Bolivia 3-2 in a La Paz thriller
- Paraguay held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires
Paraguay and Ecuador registered admirable results in Argentina and Bolivia to hike their hopes of reaching the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
Angel Romero dispatched a penalty superbly won by Miguel Almiron to put La Albirroja ahead at La Bombonera, and although Nicolas Gonzalez equalised just before the break, La Albiceleste, who had a Lionel Messi goal disallowed thereafter, were unable to find a winner. The draw left Paraguay on five points from three games, and ended Argentina’s 100-per-cent record in the South American preliminaries.
Earlier, Ecuador came from behind to eke out a thrilling 3-2 victory in Bolivia, with Carlos Gruezo’s late penalty determining the outcome. La Tri marched on to six points from a possible nine in Qatar 2022 qualifying and left their hosts pointless. Encouragingly for Ecuador, they have already played regional powerhouses Argentina and Uruguay, while two of their three games have been away.
Did you know?
- Nicolas Gonzalez scored Argentina’s first header direct from a corner in a World Cup qualifier in 20 years. Roberto Ayala had netted the last from a Juan Sebastian Veron cross against Venezuela in 2000.
- Angel Di Maria came on for his 103rd cap, leaving him just three shy of fifth-placed Diego Simeone on Argentina’s most-capped players.
- Paraguay have impressively lost just one of their last seven World Cup qualifiers away to Argentina.
- La Albirroja have stopped Messi from scoring on six of the ten occasions he has faced them.
- Paraguay are now unbeaten in their last four World Cup qualifiers away from home (3 wins, 1 draw).
Paraguay made a promising start. Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani did well to sprint from his line and deny Almiron a run on goal, before Gaston Gimenez broke into the box and flashed a shot narrowly wide.
Almiron then did superbly to win the visitors a penalty, sprinting purposefully, panicking the Argentinian defenders and forcing Lucas Martínez Quarta into a foul. Romero, who plays his club football in Argentina with San Lorenzo, made no mistake from the spot.
Argentina suffered a further blow as Exequiel Palacios hobbled off, with Giovani Lo Celso coming on in his place, but Nicolas Gonzalez suddenly had them back on terms. Lo Celso swung in a corner and the Stuttgart man produced a bullet header for his first international goal.
Messi, quiet until that point, flashed his incomparable genius and when the ball found Rodrigo De Paul, who recently told FIFA.com he’d “go to war” if Messi asked him to, unleashed a long-range screamer that Antony Silva did well to push round the post. Paraguay will have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle moments later.
Argentina began the second half in the ascendency. Lautaro Martinez won a ball he had no right to win inside the Paraguay box but couldn’t keep his snap-shot on target.
La Albiceleste then put together a brilliant passing move. It culminated with Do Celso cannily cutting the ball back for Messi, whose first-time finish beat Silva, only for the goal to be ruled out for a foul.
After 72 minutes, ‘The Atomic Flea’ sent a free-kick curling towards the top corner, but Silva produced a fine tip-over at full stretch. Messi had one last chance, a stoppage-time free-kick, but he sent it into the wall and Paraguay hung on for a point.
“I applaud the great effort of our footballers. The game demanded a lot from us defensively. We prevented Argentina finding players in space.”
Eduardo Berizzo, Paraguay coach
“We were a bit uncomfortable in the first half. Lo Celso made a real impact. Once we encouraged ourselves to have more of the ball, we spent more time in their half.”
Nicolas Otamendi, Argentina defender
Did you know?
- Caicedo’s goal was scored just 49 seconds into the second half. It was the second-fastest second-half goal Ecuador had ever netted in World Cup qualifying.
- Ecuador win a World Cup qualifier away from home after trailing at half-time for the first time ever.
- Ecuador ended a run of five successive away defeats in World Cup qualifying. Their last victory on the road had been a 3-1 win in Venezuela five years ago to this month.
- Ecuador remain unbeaten away to Bolivia since 1997, when early goals from Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry secured a 2-0 home win in France 1998 qualifying.
- Arce’s goal was his sixth in World Cup qualifiers and first with his left foot. Four of his previous efforts came with his right, with the other a header.
- Marcelo Martins’ goal against Ecuador saw him become Bolivia’s joint-leading all-time marksman alongside Joaquin Botero (20 goals apiece).
- Martins was born in Bolivia to a Bolivian mother and a Brazilian father, a former lower-league footballer. He represented Brazil at U-18 level, alongside FIFA Puskas Award winner Wendell Lira, Willian and Alexandre Pato, and U-20 level. Surprisingly, shortly after his 20th birthday, he accepted a senior call-up from Bolivia.
Ecuador began the game on top, but struggled to create any meaningful chances against a tight green wall. As the half wore on Bolivia began to get into the contest, and they made the breakthrough on 37 minutes.
Jorge Flores found Juan Arce inside the area, and he calmly fired the ball home. It was the 35-year-old’s first goal for club or country since scoring for Bolivar in January, and the 12th goal of his 16-year international career.
Angel Mena had a great chance to equalise almost immediately, but Carlos Lampe made a terrific save.
Within two minutes of the restart, however, Ecuador were level. Left-wingback Beder Caicedo burst forward and firmly fired home his first international goal. Mena then smashed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to put La Tri ahead.
A wild start to the second half took another swing on the hour. Aerial master Marcelo Martins rose highest to head home an Arce corner and make it 2-2.
‘Triple M’ almost restored La Verde‘s lead soon after, but Alexander Dominguez made a fine save, before Bolivia substitute Henry Vaca hit the woodwork. The hosts continued to give it a real go, but with three minutes of normal time remaining, were punished.
The three goals Ecuador conceded in their opening two qualifiers were all penalties, which coach Gustavo Alfaro lamented in an interview with FIFA.com, but this time the spot-kick decision was in their favour. After a handball, Carlos Gruezo sent Lampe the wrong way from 12 yards to seize victory.
“It’s an illustration of this team, which always goes in search of victory. We were deserved winners. Sometimes your performances leads you to win by a bigger margin, but the most important thing is that we won.”
Gustavo Alfaro, Ecuador coach
South America’s top international scorers
Statistics updated after Thursday’s games.
Argentina are eighth overall and third in South America, behind Uruguay (7th) and Brazil (3rd), on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Paraguay are 35th overall and eighth in the region.
Ecuador and Bolivia are 60th and 79th on the global ladder, occupying the bottom two spots in South America.
World Cup participations
Colombia-Uruguay (17:30 local time)
Chile-Peru (20:00 local time)
Brazil-Venezuela (21:30 local time)
You can follow the three matches on FIFA.com.