Argentina draws with leader Paraguay, Uruguay gets key win


Buenos Aires/Bogota : The South American qualifiers towards the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa was wide open after the seventh round.

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After the conclusion of the seventh round Saturday, Paraguay leads with 14 points, followed by Argentina on 12 and Uruguay on 11. Colombia and Chile have 10 points, although Chile have a game in hand, against Brazil Sunday.

Perennial football giant Brazil trails in sixth place with nine points and is in danger of failing to qualify for the World Cup.

Uruguay beat Colombia 1-0 in Bogota to climb to third place, while Ecuador defeated lowly Bolivia 3-1 to recover from a poor start in the qualifiers, and Peru scored it first victory in seven games with a 1-0 win against Venezuela.

On a cold, rainy afternoon in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Paraguay played what hometown coach Alfio Basile described as “a strange game.”

Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino – an Argentine – attempted to explain the result by suggesting that his men “were afraid to win” the match.

Argentina had the first clear chance, when a free kick executed by ace Juan Roman Riquelme hit the crossbar in the eighth minute.

However, a gross mistake in the 13th minute by defender Gabriel Heinze dramatically changed the course of the game. Heinze failed to head the ball clear, collided with Argentine keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri and finally scored an own goal. Abbondanzieri, with a knee injury, had to be replaced by Juan Pablo Carrizo.

To make matters worse, Argentina – winless in the last four rounds of the qualifiers – was down to 10 men by the 31st minute, after Carlos Tevez got a red card for a violent foul on Dario Veron.

A disciplined Paraguay squad controlled play until the break. However, Basile fielded substitute striker Sergio Aguero, who was very active throughout the second half and changed the pace of the match.

Aguero capitalised on a great pass from Lionel Messi in the 62nd minute to make it 1-1, but he missed at least two good chances to put Argentina ahead.

“The draw is good, because with 10 men it was very difficult to beat them,” Aguero said after the game.

Paraguayan striker Nelson Haedo Valdez was also happy with the result. “The draw is more useful to us than it is to Argentina,” he said.

Ecuador defeated Bolivia 3-1 in Quito. Striker Felipe Caicedo put the home side ahead in the 20th minute, while Joaquin Botero restored the draw six minutes before half-time. Edison Mendez and Cristian Benitez definitively gave Ecuador the lead in the 50th and 72nd minutes.

Later, a header from Sebastian Eguren was on target in the 14th minute to give Uruguay – the winner of two editions of the World Cup, though both more than 50 years ago – a crucial away win in its effort to return to the main event in the sport after missing Germany 2006.

“Colombia lost control of the ball, I think due to our pressure, but also due to the logical rush of being the host and being down in the score. That has happened to us too with draws in Montevideo,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said after the game.

Peru just managed to beat Venezuela 1-0 with a goal from Piero Alva in the 38th minute before a half-full stadium.

Next week, in the eighth round of play, Paraguay will host Venezuela Tuesday, while Wednesday is set to feature the following games: Uruguay-Ecuador, Chile-Colombia, Brazil-Bolivia and Peru-Argentina.

In South America’s 10-team World Cup qualifiers, each side plays at home and away with each of the other nine teams. The top four win a place in the World Cup, with the fifth-place team facing a representative of the North, Central American and Caribbean region in a playoff.