San Juan (Argentina): Argentina and Brazil maintained their unbeaten records in South America’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament with a goalless draw here Wednesday (IST).
With captain Lionel Messi playing in a deeper midfield role, the Albiceleste dominated possession but rarely troubled goalkeeper Alisson at the Bicentenario stadium in Argentina’s central-western city of San Juan.
The hosts managed just three shots on target while Brazil looked more dangerous as they sought to breach Argentina’s defence on the counterattack. Atletico Madrid forward Mateus Cunha went closest to scoring in a physical first-half, rifling a shot from inside the centre circle just over the crossbar.
Argentina were lucky not be penalised midway through the first half when Nicolas Otamendi struck Raphinha in the face with a stray elbow. The incident left the Leeds United forward with a bloody wound in the mouth that required stitches at halftime, Xinhua reports. Vinicius Junior spurned two gilt-edged chances either side of the interval.
First, he chipped a hurried attempt well wide of the target when he had time to compose himself, and then he sent a feeble attempt straight at goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez after being set up by Juventus right-back Danilo.
However, the 21-year-old Real Madrid forward produced what was arguably the highlight of the match when he beat Nahuel Molina with an outrageous rainbow flick before passing to Lucas Paqueta, who scuffed his shot from 12 yards.
Manchester United midfielder Fred also went close to scoring in a high-tempo second-half with a fizzing first-time effort from distance that rattled the crossbar.
In another match at Santiago, Pervis Estupinan and Moises Caicedo scored goals in each half as Ecuador edged closer to clinching a place at next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 victory over 10-man Chile.
Estupinan fired the visitors ahead in the ninth minute with an angled left-footed finish into the far corner after a bungled defensive clearance.
Chile were reduced to 10 men four minutes later when Arturo Vidal was shown a straight red card for striking Felix Torres with a boot to the face during an aerial duel.
Caicedo put the result beyond doubt with a low drive from the edge of the penalty area in second-half stoppage time.
The result leaves Ecuador third in the 10-team South American zone standings with 23 points from 14 games, six points clear of fourth-placed Colombia with four qualifiers remaining. Chile are sixth with 16 points.
The top four teams will automatically qualify for football’s showpiece tournament in Qatar while the fifth-ranked side will advance to an intercontinental playoff.
In other South American qualifiers, Peru beat Venezuela 2-1 in Caracas and Colombia were held to a 0-0 home draw by Paraguay.