Argentina and Brazil settle for a draw


Argentina drew 0-0 at home with Brazil in a tense and end-to-end game on Tuesday, but results elsewhere meant the point they earned was enough to secure them a place in next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Brazil, who guaranteed their spot last week, top the 10-team South American qualifying section with 35 points and Argentina have 29, six clear of third-placed Ecuador.

The top four teams qualify automatically, and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional playoff.

Even the Argentine players did not know they had qualified until well after the match in San Juan. It was only after Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia recorded wins later in the evening that the Argentines were mathematically assured of their place in Qatar.

The good news came after an entertaining and hard-fought game in western Argentina.

Neither side was able to impose themselves in an even game with Fred’s second-half shot for Brazil that clipped the top of the bar the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.

Brazil coach Tite felt Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi should have been punished for elbowing winger Raphinha in the first half.

The two tussled for the ball near the goal line and Otamendi appeared to elbow the Leeds United winger in the face. Raphinha fell to the ground but Otamendi hauled him up, clearly wanting the game to continue.

Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha looked to be receiving messages from his colleagues in the VAR cabin but took no action, a decision that infuriated the normally placid Brazilian coach.

“Cunha is an extraordinary referee,” Tite said, his voice rising.

“Refereeing demands a team and those who were in the VAR, it’s impossible, and I am going to repeat this, it is impossible not to see Otamendi’s elbow on Raphinha.”

“A high-quality VAR official cannot work this way. It’s inconceivable. Inconceivable is not the word I want to use. I am using that word because I am polite.”

The goalless draw means Argentina are now 27 matches unbeaten, a run stretching back more than two years.

The last time Brazil and Argentina played a match, the action lasted just five minutes. The game in Sao Paulo was cut short by officials who invaded the pitch and stopped the game, accusing the Argentine players of not following the proper COVID-19 quarantine rules.

The match this time was hotly anticipated and while it lacked goals, it did not lack action.

Alongside Vinicius Jr and Raphinha upfront, Brazil started with Matheus Cunha in place of Neymar, who did not travel to Argentina amid concerns about a thigh injury.

Vinicius Jr only had the goalkeeper to beat after 17 minutes but his attempted chip went wide and Cunha’s ambitious lob from his own half flew over just moments later.

At the other end, Alisson got down to save well from Rodrigo De Paul five minutes before half-time.

The game opened up even further in the second half with Fred and Vinicius Jr coming close for Brazil.

But the game was still there for the taking and inevitably Lionel Messi was involved before the 90 minutes were up.

Messi was back to full fitness to start his first game since October but the Paris Saint-Germain striker was quiet until the final seconds of the match when he forced Alisson to get down to save a rasping shot from 20 meters.

“I gave it all I could,” Messi said.

“This was a very intense game … It’s been a while since I’ve been out [injured] and it’s not easy to play in a game that demands this kind of pace.”

“We knew it was going to be like this, a match that was tough and hard to perform in.”

Bolivia thrash Uruguay

Bolivia scored twice in the first half then missed a penalty and had a man sent off in a 3-0 win over Uruguay on Tuesday, a result that revived their World Cup qualification chances and dealt a blow to their rivals’ hopes of making Qatar 2022.

The defeat marked the first time Uruguay had lost four qualifiers in a row and tightened the South American race for a place in next year’s finals.

Bolivia move to 15 points from 14 games, one point behind their opponents, who are level on 16 with Chile and Colombia.

The top four qualify automatically for Qatar, and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional playoff.

Brazil are the only country out of the 10 South American sides to have guaranteed their place at the finals so far

In La Paz, Juan Carlos Arce put Bolivia ahead after 29 minutes when goalkeeper Fernando Muslera let his speculative cross sneak through his hands into the net, and Marcelo Moreno made it two with a header seconds before halftime.

Moreno, the top scorer in the South American qualifiers, missed a penalty after 62 minutes and, although substitute Carmelo Algaranaz was sent off 12 minutes later, Arce netted his second and Bolivia’s third with 11 minutes to go.

The result means Bolivia have won four of their seven home qualifiers at high altitude — a record that compares with no victories from their seven away games.

Ecuador beat Chile

Pervis Estupinan and Moises Caicedo were the night’s heros for Ecuador at the Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo as La Tricolor clinched a 2-0 away victory over Chile for the Conmebol 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.

With Ecuador’s victory, Argentina and Lionel Messi secured their ticket to the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar. La Albiceleste drew 0-0 at home to tournament’s leaders Brazil, who had already clinched their spot in the World Cup on Thursday.

Chile ended a three-game winning streak. The national team coached by Martin Lasarte found more difficulties after Estupiñan’s goal, as its captain Arturo Vidal was sent off after a terrible kick on Felix Torres Caicedo and left his team with 10 men. Moises Caicedo then sealed the 2-0 win in injury time.

Holland qualify for the World Cup

Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay scored late as the Netherlands qualified for next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 home victory over Norway on Tuesday to win Group G.

The result means Borussia Dortmund and Norway star Erling Haaland misses out on his chance to compete at his first senior tournament next year.

The Dutch return to the finals after missing out on the 2018 tournament in Russia but with little conviction after limping through their last two qualifiers.

They had been eight minutes from securing early qualification on Saturday before giving up two goals to draw in Montenegro, but Tuesday’s victory in an empty stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions was enough to top the group.

The Netherlands finished with 23 points from 10 games, two more than Turkey, who won 2-1 away to Montenegro to secure a playoff spot. Norway ended third in the group with 18 points.

Bergwijn hammered home a right-foot shot in the 84th minute that flew into the back of the net, to the relief of the home side. Depay made sure of the result as he finished off a breakaway after being set up by Bergwijn deep in stoppage time.

It was Depay’s 12th goal of the campaign, tying him with England captain Harry Kane in the European qualifying scoring charts.

The Dutch dominated possession and had several half chances with Depay, their most enterprising player.

But they also played with an edgy approach, eager to avoid mistakes that would allow Norway to snatch the game away.

The Norwegians, without injured talisman Haaland, would have had to win to secure a top-two finish and show some enterprise in the last quarter, but they still failed to get any efforts on target. The absence of supporters did not help the home cause.

The game was played behind closed doors at De Kuip after the Dutch government over the weekend barred spectators from major sporting events for the next three weeks in an effort to contain a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal was also missing from the dugout. He fractured his hip falling off his bicycle on Sunday and sat in a wheelchair in the VIP area, high in the stands, communicating via mobile with his assistants on the bench.

France beat Finland

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe were on target again in a sharp second-half performance as France completed their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 away win against Finland on Tuesday.

The French attack stuttered until Benzema came on as a second-half substitute and Mbappe set him up for the opener.

Mbappe then scored France’s second as the world champions, who had already qualified for Qatar 2022 after Saturday’s 8-0 demolition of Kazakhstan, finished Group D with 18 points from eight games.

Finland, who were hoping to secure a playoff spot, ended up third on 11 points, one behind Ukraine who beat Bosnia 2-0 away to take second place.

“We wanted to finish on a high and we’re happy we did it. Now we’re looking forward to the World Cup. With the team we have it’s natural to think about [winning] it,” Benzema said.

France have now scored in their last 18 games, matching a record that dates back to 1999-2000.

Finland were the last team to manage a clean sheet against Les Bleus and it seemed they may repeat the feat, but Benzema’s entrance in the 57th minute signalled the end of their hopes.

Didier Deschamps had made five changes to the team who hammered Kazakhstan, with Benzema and Kingsley Coman on the bench.

The duo’s absence was clearly felt as Les Bleus struggled to create chances against a compact Finland team.

Shortly before halftime, Leo Dubois picked up a thigh injury and was replaced by Benjamin Pavard.

Finland started the second half with poise but the French defence stayed alert and the visitors stepped up a gear when Benzema replaced Moussa Diaby.

They were rewarded in the 66th minute with Benzema finding the back of the net with a deflected low shot after a neat one-two with Mbappe, who found the Real Madrid striker with a back heel.

Ten minutes later, Mbappe outsprinted three Finnish players on the left flank before finishing with a superb curled shot into the far corner of the net for his 24th international goal.

It was Mbappe’s fifth goal in two games after he bagged four against Kazakhstan.

“There was more at stake for Finland than for us tonight but we did what we had to do,” Deschamps said.

“It was a very positive year for France, except for those fatal 10 minutes in the last 16 of the European championship against Switzerland.”

Belgium and Wales share points

Wales held Belgium to a 1-1 draw to guarantee themselves a runners-up spot behind the world number ones in World Cup qualifying Group E in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Kieffer Moore cancelled out Kevin de Bruyne’s early opener to earn the Welsh the point they required to stay in front of the Czech Republic who beat Estonia.

Despite having already assured themselves of a place in the playoffs next March courtesy of their Nations League results, finishing second in the group means that Robert Page’s side could enjoy a more favourable semi-final draw.

Wales more than matched Belgium, especially in the second half, and Neco Williams was denied a spectacular late goal when his powerful effort was saved by visiting keeper Koen Casteels.

Belgium, who won the group with 20 points, appeared content to maintain their long unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers which now stretches to 28 games.

Wales, who have not lost a home qualifier for four years, are trying to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958 and will at least know that they cannot play either Italy or Portugal in their playoff semi-final.

“It’s massive. Full credit to the boys, they put in a massive shift again against top opposition,” Wales captain Aaron Ramsey said.

“There’s some big, big teams still in it but it was so important that we had a home tie.”

Things did not start well for Wales and it took Belgium only 12 minutes to go ahead with De Bruyne clinically dispatching a right-foot shot inside the post after an effort by Axel Witsel rebounded into his path off a Welsh defender.

Belgium looked in the mood to make Wales suffer and De Bruyne wasted a chance after a mistake by Ben Davies.

But Wales unexpectedly drew level when Daniel James showed great persistence on the left to eventually play in a cross to Moore who swept a shot past Casteels.

Belgium almost went back in front before halftime when De Bruyne chipped a free-kick towards Thorgan Hazard whose first-time volley smacked against the upright.

Roberto Martinez’s side continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession after the break but Wales always looked dangerous on the counter and were well worth a point that could prove vital if they are to take their place in Qatar in 12 months.

Only three of the 12 teams competing in the playoffs, who will be separated into groups of four with each group featuring two single-leg semi-finals and one final, will reach the World Cup in Qatar.


Courtesy: Reuters

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