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SPORTS | 07-10-2021 23:49

Paraguay stifle Messi and Argentina in World Cup qualifier stalemate

Single point maintain Albiceleste's unbeaten run in qualifying and solidifies their second place in the single qualifying table behind runaway leaders Brazil, who saw off a scare against Venezuela in Caracas.

Paraguay kept Lionel Messi's Argentina quiet in a goalless draw on Thursday night in a South American World Cup qualifier.

The point maintained the Albiceleste's unbeaten run in qualifying and solidified their second place in the single qualifying table behind runaway leaders Brazil, who saw off a scare against Venezuela in Caracas, coming back from behind and win 3-1.

Uruguay remained third after another scoreless draw with Colombia in Montevideo.

A lively start in Asunción saw chances at both ends but Argentina's Joaquín Correa should have done better when put clean through on goal, only for a heavy touch to allow goalkeeper Antony Silva to smother the danger.

Argentina stopper Emiliano Martínez then made a full stretch save to tip Santiago Arzamendi's piledriver from distance around the post.

Correa got beyond Paraguay's defence twice more, both times from Messi passes, but was flagged offside the first time and needlessly tried to square the ball to Ángel Di María the second time, allowing a defender to clear.

Argentina were predictably on top as Messi curled a free-kick from the left wide of the far post.

But despite enjoying almost 70 percent of possession and most of the first half chances, the Albiceleste rarely looked like breaking down their organised hosts.

There was a similarly brisk start to the second half as Correa somehow failed to convert Rodrigo De Paul's cross to the back post.

At the other end, Martínez blocked Miguel Almirón's shot from a tight angle after the Newcastle United forward's mazy run.

Argentina looked set to take the lead on the hour mark when Di María's deep cross found the unmarked Correa but incredibly Mathías Villasanti got back to deflect his free header behind with his knee.

Martínez then had to be alert to parry Antonio Sanabria's near post flick, while Silva beat away a fierce De Paul drive.

Played in behind the defence by Almirón, Sanabria dragged a shot across goal while Silva made a flying save to deny substitute Nicolás González's curling shot that was heading for the top corner.

Carlos González should have won it two minutes from time for Paraguay but skied his shot from 12 yards out.

In Montevideo, Uruguay dominated the first half against Colombia but Luis Suárez had a goal ruled out for a narrow offside and also missed a sitter, opening his foot too far when trying to curl the ball into the far corner.

It was more of the same in the second period with Uruguay enjoying the lion's share of the chances but neither side found a way to break the deadlock.

Gabriel Barbosa's penalty five minutes from time maintained Brazil's perfect start, with a come from behind 3-1 win over Venezuela on Thursday.

It was a ninth win from nine for the Selecão and extended their lead in the single South American qualifying group to eight points over Argentina.

Eric Ramírez's early goal gave Venezuela a shock lead in Caracas but Marquinhos equalised with a header before Barbosa's late penalty.

Substitute Antony rubbed salt into unlucky Venezuela's wounds five minutes into injury time to leave the hosts rooted to the bottom of the table.

Shorn of the suspended Neymar, Brazil clearly missed his spark, dominating possession but creating little until their late rally.

Venezuela took a shock lead on 11 minutes when Yeferson Soteldo stood up a cross into the box and Ramírez rose unmarked to head into the far corner as two Brazilian defenders in close attendance slipped.

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by Barnaby Chesterman, AFP

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