Argentina’s World Cup hopes hang in balance after Peru stalemate

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Argentina are in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time in 48 years after slumping to a 0-0 draw with Peru at La Bombonera

The prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi edged nearer to reality on Thursday as Argentina struggled to a 0-0 draw with Peru, which left their qualification hopes hanging in the balance.

Despite dominating possession in front of a raucous home support at Buenos Aires fabled La Bombonera stadium, Messi and Argentina once again drew a blank to the dismay of their fans.

The result left Argentina sixth in South Americas marathon qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. The first four teams in the standings qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed side going into a play-off against New Zealand in November.

Argentinas draw sets up a nail-biting finale next week, with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay. All could yet clinch an automatic qualification spot depending on results elsewhere. The margin for error for Argentina, however, who last failed to qualify for a World Cup in 1970, has narrowed dramatically after their latest stalemate, their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign.

Argentinas final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito. Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadorian capital, losing two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other. The Argentinians last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.

Our situation is not very comfortable, said Argentinas coach, Jorge Sampaoli, but it depends on us. I remain confident well be in the World Cup. It would really be unfair if a group that put it all out there like they did does not advance. Throughout the game we had a marked advantage again them but we could not break through.

Argentina had all the possession against Peru. Messi had a handful of good chances and hit the post in the first minute of the second half. Daro Benedetto had several chances, too, but the visitors rode out the game for a vital point. Getting a result in Argentina is really difficult, Perus Argentinian-born coach Ricardo Gareca said. But qualifying now depends only on us, which is important.

Late goals lift Paraguay to stunning win

Colombia were on top against Paraguay throughout and Radamel Falcaos 78th-minute goal appeared to have cemented their place in Russia.

However, two late errors by the goalkeeper David Ospina, combined with a number of missed chances by the home side, allowed Paraguay to keep their own hopes alive with a 2-1 win in Barranquilla. Ospina spilled the ball from a hopeful punt with a minute remaining, allowing scar Cardozo to latch on to the loose ball and fire home. Two minutes into injury time the keeper failed to hold a low drive and Antonio Sanabria slotted home to give the visitors three points.

Joy for Paraguay after Antonio Sanabria, right, grabbed a late winner. Photograph: Mauricio Duenas/EPA

Uruguay failed to break down Venezuela in a 0-0 draw and must wait until Tuesday to seal what looks like a certain World Cup place.

Despite the presence of Barcelonas Luis Surez and Edinson Cavani in their starting lineup, Uruguay were held to a stalemate in San Cristbal that confirmed their hosts will finish bottom of the 10-team group.

Brazil remained 10 points clear at the top despite a 0-0 draw with Bolivia in La Paz. The home goalkeeper Carlos Lampe was the man of the match after denying Neymar three times at the Hernando Siles Stadium.

Both sides hit the woodwork in a lively encounter Bolivia at the end of the first half and the visitors in the second. Bolivia have already been eliminated but both nations will play a significant role in the final round; Brazil host Chile on Tuesday, while Bolivia travel to Montevideo to face Uruguay.

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