Argentina, Uruguay win in long-awaited World Cup qualifiers
SAO PAULO (AP) - In their first games in almost a year, Argentina and Uruguay won their qualifying openings for the South American World Cup on Thursday without doing much to impress their fans from home.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez each scored one goal on the spot but did little else to fuel the empty stadiums in a region still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Messi scored the only goal of the Argentine win over Ecuador at La Bombonera Stadium, while Suárez scored the first in Uruguay's 2-1 win over Chile in Montevideo at the last minute. Paraguay were drawn 2-2 by Peru.
The rest of the opening games in South American qualifiers for Qatar 2022 will be completed on Friday when Brazil, possibly without Neymar, host Bolivia and James Rodriguez's Colombia plays Venezuela. All 10 teams will start again on Tuesday.
South America will have four direct berths at the next World Cup. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia start as favorites for these spots in that order. The fifth best team can qualify through an intercontinental playoff, with Peru and Chile being strong competitors. The qualification phase ends in March 2022.
Messi had more freedom with his national team than recently in Barcelona. Despite the 13th-minute goal, he didn't shine as expected and saw his two attacking team-mates Lautaro Martínez and Lucas Ocampo miss opportunities in the Buenos Aires game.
Messi's favorite partner with Argentina, striker Sergio Aguero, is injured.
“It was a tough year for the whole world, for us Argentines. Being able to play beyond the game and bring some joy to people with this win is good for relieving the stress, "said Messi." What matters is that we won and now we have to keep growing. We have done that since last year's Copa America. "
Messi, who has not yet won a trophy with his national team, only had two shots on goal.
Ecuador temporarily threatened Argentina's leadership in the second half, although there was little time to prepare under new coach Gustavo Alfaro.
Messi was allowed to play despite receiving a red card during the 2019 Copa America. The sentence was canceled because it was supposed to be carried out within a year.
Argentina's next challenge will be against Bolivia at the height of La Paz. Ecuador will welcome Uruguay.
Without Edinson Cavani, who missed out for lack of action in recent months, striker Luis Suárez should be Uruguay's key player against Chile. And he seemed to be prepared for it after he opened the scoring with a penalty in the 39th minute via video review.
Chile did not allow the new Atletico Madrid goalkeeper to dictate the game, however, scoring 1-1 in the 54th minute when veteran striker Alexis Sanchez defeated Uruguayan goalkeeper Martín Campaña with a gentle right-leg shot.
As coach Oscar Tabarez had predicted, Uruguay missed its hardcore fans at the Estadio Centenario. But just as the few staff and players present thought the game would end in a draw, Maxi Gómez scored from the edge of the box at stoppage time.
"There is still a lot of uncertainty in these qualifiers. We just don't know what it will be like," Tabarez said in a reference to the pandemic. “Playing without fans affects us a lot. As long as there is no participation, this will not be football. "
In his celebration, Suárez showed off a shirt wishing goalkeeper Fernando Muslera well. Muslera is recovering from a broken leg and his mother recently died.
Uruguay will face Ecuador in the next round. Chile will host Colombia.
Peruvian striker André Carillo was the key figure in the game at the Defensores del Chaco stadium in Paraguay. He opened the goal with a powerful right-footed volley in the 52nd minute, keeping the pressure on the hosts and making the Peruvians believe they could leave Asuncion with a win.
But then substitute Ángel Romero scored from close range in the 66th and 81st minutes to give Paraguay the lead.
Carillo's strong 85th-minute header equalized for Peru and gave the visitors a point in Paraguay before they faced Brazil in Lima on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Paraguay will play in Venezuela, the only South American team that has never qualified for a World Cup.
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