Argentina’s undefeated start to their World Cup qualifying campaign continued on Thursday night with a 3-1 victory against Venezuela, who were reduced to ten men.
However, Brazil’s flawless start to qualifying continued with a seventh win in a row, when Everton Ribeiro scored the lone goal in a 1-0 away triumph over Chile.
Lionel Messi struggled to impose his dominance on the game in Caracas in his first encounter for his nation since joining Paris Saint-Germain, but it didn’t matter.
After Luis Adrian Martinez’s red card for a reckless challenge on Messi, Venezuela was reduced to ten men in the first half injury time. Lautaro Martinez scored the game’s first goal in injury time.
Argentina did not impress in the first half, but replacements Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa came through in the last quarter.
Venezuela, on the other side, did not go home empty-handed, as Yeferson Soteldo scored a cheeky “Panenka” penalty late in the game.
Argentina will face Brazil in a rematch of the Copa America final, which they won 1-0 in July to end a 28-year drought for a major championship.
“After the final we played, it will be a wonderful, crucial match,” Lautaro Martinez remarked.
“We need to take a break and then approach the contest the same way we approached the Copa America final.”
THE GAME IS CHANGED BY THE RED CARD.
Argentina had been the stronger team early on, striking the crossbar with a long-range effort from Rodrigo de Paul on 13 minutes.
On the half-hour, however, the game swung drastically in the visitors’ favor when Luis Adrian Martinez, an early replacement who had just been on the pitch for less than five minutes, rushed in rashly on Messi.
The referee issued a yellow card for the studs-up challenge, but after a VAR review, it was upgraded to a straight red card.
Argentina scored the game’s opening goal in first-half injury time, turning the contest into an attack-versus-defense battle.
Giovani Lo Celso slid in a superbly placed ball for Lautaro Martinez to tuck into the bottom corner as the pressure increased.
After fine work from Messi and Lautaro Martinez, Argentina struggled after the interval against a crowded defense, but replacement Joaquin Correa finally put the game to bed 20 minutes from time with a powerful low shot from just inside the box.
Lautaro Martinez’s effort was blocked by Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez three minutes later, but Angel Correa scooped up the rebound.
Five minutes from time, Messi had a wonderful chance to put his name on the scoresheet, but he fired too near to Farinez.
In the penalty area, substitute Alejandro Gomez stood on Soteldo’s foot, allowing the small playmaker to rescue some Venezuelan pride.
ECUADOR HAS LEFT IT TOO LATE
Depleted For much of their voyage to Santiago, Brazil was second best, with 11 players unable to join the group owing to coronavirus quarantine restrictions imposed by their clubs.
Liverpool’s Alisson, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva, and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus were all unavailable, but Neymar, who currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain in France, was available.
On 64 minutes, it was his shot that Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo spilled into the path of Everton Ribeiro, who scored the game’s lone goal.
Before defeating Paraguay 2-0 in Quito, Ecuador waited until the last minute to clinch third place in the rankings.
With a header two minutes from time, Felix Torres put the game out of reach, and Michael Estrada’s solo effort five minutes into additional time clinched the triumph.
Uruguay was missing its two top strikers, Luis Suarez, who was injured, and Edinson Cavani, whose Manchester United club refused to release him due to coronavirus quarantine restrictions in the United Kingdom.
However, Argentina grabbed a point away from Peru, who rose out of the bottom three, when Giorgian de Arrascaeta’s 29th-minute equalize cancelled out Renato Tapia’s five-minute opening for the hosts.
Nahitan Nandez came close to winning it for Uruguay with a spectacular shot that touched the outside of the post 20 seconds from time.
After Roger Martinez’s 69th-minute opening for Colombia, Fernando Saucedo levelled for Bolivia seven minutes from time in a 1-1 draw at La Paz.