World Cup qualifier
Paraguay hold Argentina, late penalty helps preserve Brazil’s winning start
It was a ninth win from nine for the Selecao and extended their lead in the single South American qualifying group to eight points over unbeaten Argentina, who drew 0-0 in Paraguay
Gabriel Barbosa’s penalty five minutes from time maintained Brazil’s perfect start to South American World Cup qualifying with a come from behind 3-1 win over Venezuela on Thursday.
It was a ninth win from nine for the Selecao and extended their lead in the single South American qualifying group to eight points over unbeaten Argentina, who drew 0-0 in Paraguay.
Eric Ramirez’s early goal gave Venezuela a shock lead in Caracas but Marquinhos equalised with a header before Barbosa’s late penalty.
Substitute Antony rubbed salt into unlucky Venezuela’s wounds five minutes into injury time to leave the hosts rooted to the bottom of the table.
“It was a tough game, we started off well below our level,” admitted Marquinhos.
“It was our second half performance that got us the positive result we wanted.”
Shorn of the suspended Neymar, Brazil clearly missed his spark, dominating possession but creating little until their late rally.
Venezuela took a shock lead on 11 minutes when Yeferson Soteldo stood up a cross into the box and Ramiurez rose unmarked to head into the far corner as two Brazilian defenders in close attendance slipped.
Brazil were almost level halfway through the first period but Everton Ribeiro’s attempted cross deflected off Nathuel Ferraresi and onto the bar, before the defender cleared the ball to safety.
Brazil had the ball in the net on 56 minutes but it was chalked off for a foul by Thiago Silva.
Marquinhos rose to head home debutant substitute Raphinha’s corner 19 minutes from time, although Venezuela’s goalkeeper Joel Graterol should have done better but seemed to be deceived by the ball bouncing in front of him.
And the turnaround was complete when Oscar Gonzalez tripped Barbosa in the box, with the striker calmly slotting the resulting spot kick down the middle of the goal.
Leeds United’s Raphinha rounded off an impressive debut with a second assist for Antony to tap home from six yards with almost the last kick of the match.
Paraguay thwart Messi
Paraguay kept Lionel Messi quiet in a goalless draw in Asuncion.
A lively start saw chances at both ends but Argentina’s Joaquin Correa should have done better when put clean through on goal, only for a heavy touch to allow goalkeeper Antony Silva to smother the danger.
Argentina stopper Emiliano Martinez then made a full stretch save to tip Santiago Arzamendi’s piledriver from distance around the post.
Correa got beyond Paraguay’s defence twice more, both times from Messi passes, but was flagged offside the first time and needlessly tried to square the ball to Angel Di Maria the second time, allowing a defender to clear.
Argentina were predictably on top as Messi curled a free-kick from the left wide of the far post.
But despite enjoying almost 70 per cent of possession and most of the first half chances, Argentina rarely looked like breaking down their organised hosts.
There was a similarly brisk start to the second half as Correa somehow failed to convert Rodrigo De Paul’s cross to the back post.
At the other end, Martinez blocked Miguel Almiron’s shot from a tight angle after the Newcastle United forward’s mazy run.
Argentina looked set to take the lead on the hour mark when Di Maria’s deep cross found the unmarked Correa but incredibly Mathias Villasanti got back to deflect his free header behind with his knee.
Carlos Gonzalez should have won it two minutes from time for Paraguay but skied his shot from 12 yards out.
“We just lacked a goal from our clear chances,” moaned Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.
“Paraguay had us in difficulty a few times but we dominated.”
A three-goal five-minute blitz gave Ecuador a 3-0 win over Bolivia in Guayaquil.
Michael Estrada opened the scoring before an Enner Valencia brace put the game to bed inside 20 minutes and sent Ecuador up to third.
In Montevideo, Uruguay dominated Colombia but had to settle for a scoreless draw that left them fourth and fifth, battling for the last automatic qualification spot.
Luis Suarez had a goal ruled out for a narrow offside and also missed a sitter, opening his foot too far when trying to curl the ball into the far corner.
Goals from Christian Cueva and Sergio Pena gave Peru a 2-0 win over Chile in Lima.