World Cup qualifiers – round-up

South America
The ‘big two’ once again emphasised their regional domination after this weekend’s eighth round games in the South American qualifying section for the 2006 World Cup.

Argentina went to the top of the South American table by beating Peru 3-1 away on Saturday. Despite being pegged back to 1-1 when Jorge Soto equalised Mauro Rosales’ first half strike on 61 minutes, the Argentines moved up a gear and cruised to victory with further goals from Fabrizio Coloccini and Juan Pablo Sorin. Earlier, both sides lost a man after Cristian Gonzales and Flavio Maestri were sent off for a pushing contest just before half time.

“It was a pleasure to see our best passages of play. This was a thoroughly deserved result, but by that I don’t mean to imply it was easy,” said Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa at the post-match press conference.

Brazil regained their place at the head of the qualification table after a 3-1 win at home to Bolivian in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

Against a defensive Bolivian line-up, the Brazilians notched a 2-0 lead in the first 13 minutes, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho getting the goals. Ronaldo scored after just 55 seconds, Adriano added a third before half time. Cristaldo reduced the deficit five minutes after the interval, but the home side were never seriously in danger.

“I’ve no doubt that the goal in the first minute changed the face of the game,” Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said after the match.

He acknowledged the role of the fans in Sao Paulo – often the team’s fiercest critics: “If we’d taken a long time to score, the crowd could have become irritated and the game could have got complicated.”

In Asuncion, Paraguay narrowly beat Venezuela to establish themselves in third place in the qualifying group – the only goal of the game coming from Carlos Gamarra on 52 minutes. Richard Paez came agonisingly close to equalising for the away side in the last minute, but was denied by the crossbar.

Venezuela have now failed to score in the three games following their 3-0 away win to Uruguay in March.

Uruguay scored a controversial victory over Ecuador in Montevideo. The only goal of the game came from Carlos Bueno, who headed in sub Fabian Estoyanoff’s cross at the second attempt. Despite what looked like a terrific double save from Ecuadorian keeper Edwin Villafuerte, the referee decided the ball had crossed the line to the outrage of the away team, who surrounded the linesman in protest.

It was a much-needed win for the Uruguayans who had lost their previous three qualification games.

“We were a very disciplined looking side out there, but we didn’t know how to go about attacking,” said Ecuador coach Luis Suárez after the game.

His opposite number Jorge Fossati expressed his relief at the result: “Uruguay had to overcome their own nerves. We finished a game with a clean sheet. That’s a first for us.”

In the group’s other game, Chile and Colombia drew a bad-tempered match in Santiago 0-0. Both sides finished the match with nine men after John Viafara and Jairo Patino were dismissed for Colombia, Claudio Maldonado and Rodrigo Perez seeing red for the home side.

The red card spree began in the 17th minute when Viafara was dismissed for a vicious-looking late challenge on Maldonado. The Chilean looked to be in some distress as he was carried off, but after making a quick recovery was ready to come back on in the 20th minute. Mysteriously, he was then red-carded by Brazilian referee Wilson de Souza Mendonca.

Perez and Patino were sent off in the 71st minute after an off-the-ball clash, Chilean fullback Perez had spent much of the game complaining about his first half booking.
Despite being unable to match the best of Colombia’s passing football, it’s Chile who are in the best position in the group, currently holding on to the fourth and last qualification place, four points behind leaders Brazil with ten games to go.

The arrival of Marcelo Salas at half-time for only his second appearance for Chile in two years temporarily lifted the crowd, but the teams were booed off the pitch by the 63,000 crowd at the end.