Argentina vs Paraguay
Estadio Mario Kempes
(2-1) 3-1 – Lavezzi, Higuain, Messi; Fabbro (pen)
Another away defeat for Paraguay, their fourth of the current campaign leaves them bottom of the qualifying group with just four points. It was their first qualifying defeat to Argentina since 1997 and their first on Argentine soil since 1973. It isn’t all doom and gloom, this was the albirroja’s best performance in the qualifiers so far as they went down fighting against the albiceleste and can point to some misfortune in the first two goals.
The opener came after a couple of minutes, Paraguay had started brightly but were ripped apart by a quick passing move that dragged the defence towards the ball leaving Angel Di Maria in space. He looked to curl a shot into the far corner which looped up off the back of Ezequiel Lavezzi and out of the reach of Justo Villar.
Paraguay stuck to their gameplan, giving Argentina possession in defence before trying to squeeze and accelerate the tempo in the midfield, Cristian Riveros in particular was excellent at pressing. Paraguay began to have possession and were winning set pieces, one of which led to the equaliser. Under no pressure Rodrigo Braña inexplicably handballed a Victor Ayala corner to hand Paraguay a lifeline. The Argentine-born Jonathan Fabbro had no problem scoring and celebrating against the country of his birth, the 100th Paraguyan goal against their oldest rivals. The Guaraní were only level for 15 minutes though as Argentina went in front on the half hour through Gonzalo Higuain’s smart finish. Richard Ortiz attempted to cut out a through ball but only succeeded in diverting it into the path of Higuain and one-on-one with Paulo da Silva there was only going to be one winner.
The nail in the coffin came in the second half with a Lionel Messi free kick, the Argentine captian had threatened in the first half when he struck the post from a set piece but this time he made no mistake. Paraguay pushed in the later stages for a consolation, their main weapon Ayala’s dead ball delivery but they were unable to find the net again and have now lost every away game by two goals.
World Cup qualification looks all but impossible now for the albirroja especially with Colombia and Ecuador winning, but hopes will be raised if they can win at home to Venezuela on Tuesday night and the aforementioned sides lose their away games to Chile and Uruguay.
By Ralph Hannah