MONTEVIDEO: Lionel Messi and Argentina’s hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup were left hanging in the balance on Thursday after another stalemate on a nail-biting day of South American qualifying action.
Argentina were held to a 0-0 draw in Buenos Aires by Peru, leaving the two-time world champions outside the automatic qualification places as they head into the final round of fixtures next Tuesday.
It was another desperately disappointing display by Argentina, who once again struggled to turn a wealth of possession into goals.
Barcelona star Messi hit the post in the second half but could only watch in frustration after serving up a stream of chances for teammates who failed to convert.
The result left Argentina in sixth place in the standings. The first four teams qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed team advancing to a playoff against New Zealand in November.
But with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay, the final standings could change dramatically depending on results on Tuesday.
The margin for error for Argentina, however, has narrowed after their latest setback, their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign.
Argentina’s final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito. Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadoran capital, losing two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other. The Argentines’ last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.
However a victory on Tuesday would guarantee Argentina at least fifth place in the standings, with Peru and Colombia guaranteed to drop points against each other in their final game.
Brazil, who have already qualified in first place, were held to a 0-0 draw by eliminated Bolivia in La Paz earlier Thursday.
That left the focus on the teams jostling behind the five time champions for the three remaining automatic spots.
Uruguay, who are second with 28 points from 17 games, missed the chance to book their place in Russia after being frustrated 0-0 away at Venezuela.
Uruguay’s Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani squandered a golden chance to win the game but shot wide in the 83rd minute.
But Germany, England seal qualification
Defending champions Germany clinched a place at next year’s World Cup in Russia with a 3-1 win in Northern Ireland on Thursday, while England beat Slovenia 1-0 to secure their berth.
Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner struck brilliant first-half goals in Belfast before Joshua Kimmich added a late third as Joachim Loew’s team made it nine wins out of nine in European qualifying Group C.
The four-time world champions also maintained their proud unbeaten away record in World Cup qualifiers — a run spanning an incredible 47 matches dating back to 1934.
“We’re off to Russia, to tear it up! We want to successfully defend the World Cup title,” said Bayern Munich midfielder Rudy following his first international goal.
Northern Ireland, who grabbed a consolation through Josh Magennis, remain on track to claim a spot in next month’s play-offs as they attempt to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Harry Kane continued his stunning goalscoring form with a 94th-minute winner as an unimpressive England overcame Slovenia at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s side looked utterly bereft of ideas until skipper Kane converted Kyle Walker’s inviting cross to score his 14th goal in nine games for club and country.
It is the sixth time in succession England have qualified for the World Cup, but after making such heavy work of defeating Slovenia, they are unlikely to give the game’s super-powers many sleepless nights.
“It’s not a relief, I always thought we’d achieve the objective (of qualifying),” said Southgate. “Tonight highlighted where we are. We know exactly where we need to improve. We do have players who can score goals. It is a work in progress and when I was given the job the aim was to qualify for the World Cup.”
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Source: Tribune News | Messi, Argentina edge closer to missing World Cup