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World Cup qualifiers: Messi endures frustrating outing as Argentina held by Paraguay

 
Montevideo, Oct 8 (IANS) Argentina and Uruguay had to settle for goalless draws in their respective 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Colombia. In Asuncion, Argentina looked in control for most of the match but struggled to find a way past the hosts' defence as Albiceleste captain Lionel Messi endured a frustrating Thursday night.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward's best scoring chance came when he curled a first-half free-kick narrowly wide of the far post.

The hosts had goalkeeper Antony Silva to thank for denying Argentina a late winner as he launched himself sideways to keep out Nicolas Gonzalez's dipping shot. Carlos Gonzalez had a chance to steal an unlikely victory for Paraguay but sent his shot from 12 yards sailing over the bar.

Argentina remain unbeaten with five wins and four draws from their nine qualifiers so far while Paraguay have two wins, six draws and two defeats, Xinhua reports.

Meanwhile, Colombia secured a vital point away from home at Montevideo's Gran Parque Central stadium. Uruguay dominated for much of the first half and were unlucky not to go ahead when Suarez was flagged for a marginal offside after finding the back of the net in the 22nd minute.

Suarez also sent a close-range attempt wide of the target when he had only goalkeeper David Ospina to beat. Colombia's best scoring opportunity came in the 70th minute when Luis Diaz's cross left Duvan Zapata one on one with goalkeeper Fernando Muslera six yards out. But the Atalanta striker sent a timid attempt straight at the Galatasaray stopper.

Muslera then tipped Jefferson Lerma's looping header over the bar after a Juan Cuadrado set piece. Colombia now have 14 points from 10 qualifiers, two points behind Uruguay.

The top four teams in the South American group will earn an automatic berth at next year's World Cup in Qatar while the fifth-ranked side will advance to an intercontinental playoff.

In Caracas, Brazil produced a late flourish to keep their perfect 2022 World Cup qualifying record intact with a 3-1 victory away to Venezuela.

The hosts shocked the five-time World Cup winners by taking the lead through an Eric Ramirez header following Yeferson Soteldo's cross in the 11th minute. Brazil, who were without talismanic forward Neymar due to suspension, controlled most of the possession but lacked intensity in the final third.

Selecao boss Tite replaced the ineffective Everton Ribeiro with Leeds attacker Raphinha at half-time and introduced Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior for Lucas Paqueta shortly after. The changes made an immediate impact as Brazil began to attack with more urgency.

Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos netted the equaliser in the 71st minute by meeting a Raphinha corner with a towering header into the bottom right corner. The visitors then took the lead when Gabriel Barbosa converted from the penalty spot after he was tripped by Oscar Gonzalez.

Ajax forward Antony Santos put the result beyond doubt with an easy tap-in after Raphinha's cut-back from the right byline. Brazil now have nine wins from as many qualifiers and lead the 10-team South American zone standings with an eight-point advantage over second-placed Argentina.

Venezuela, who have never beaten Brazil in a competitive fixture, are last in the group with four points from 10 games.

In Lima, Peru kept alive their hopes of qualifying for a second consecutive FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 home win over Chile. The hosts went ahead in the 35th minute when Paolo Guerrero's powerful shot was kept out by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before Christian Cueva thumped in the rebound.

Sergio Pena doubled the lead just after the hour mark with a low drive from 12 yards after Yoshimar Yotun's long-range effort rebounded off the post. Peru now have 11 points from 10 South American zone qualifiers, four points ahead of Chile.

Fenerbahce forward Enner Valencia netted a first-half brace as Ecuador routed Bolivia 3-0 in their World Cup qualifier. Michael Estrada opened the scoring on the quarter-hour mark by heading home following a Byron Castillos cross.

Valencia doubled the lead with a cool finish into the bottom-right corner after Moises Caicedo's through-ball. The former West Ham and Everton player again hit the target two minutes later when he combined with Estrada to fire in from close range.

The result leaves Ecuador third in the 10-team South American zone standings with 16 points from 10 matches. Bolivia are ninth with six points.

--IANS

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