Montevideo (AFP) – Argentina moved to the brink of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar despite a tight and turgid 0-0 draw with Brazil on Tuesday.
Results elsewhere meant Argentina need only a point from their final five qualification matches to book their ticket, although they may yet qualify sooner if Chile lose the night’s late match.
Chile trailed 1-0 at home to Ecuador at half-time and had already seen Arturo Vidal sent off early on.
Argentina welcomed back six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi to their starting line-up while star forward Neymar missed out for Brazil.
But Messi was unable to inspire his team in a match of few chances, against opponents who booked their ticket to Qatar on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Colombia.
Brazil remain top of the qualifying group, six points clear of Argentina, who took their unbeaten run to 27 matches.
Brazil wasted a two-on-two break when Fred’s pass forced Vinicius Junior wide, and his first touch ran out of play.
It summed up a match that never caught fire and in which almost nothing came off from either side.
Quick-thinking Matheus Cunha tried to score the goal of the qualification campaign when attempting to chip Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from inside his own half, but his effort sailed over the crossbar.
Argentina came alive in the last five minutes of the half as Rodrigo de Paul managed the hosts’ first shot on target, although Alisson Becker dealt with it comfortably in the Brazil goal.
Brazil had only managed one shot on target themselves in the first 45 minutes, and that was a weak effort by Fred.
Much-maligned Manchester United midfielder Fred almost became the unlikely hero in the second period when he came closest yet to breaking the deadlock, clipping the top of the bar with Martinez beaten.
But there was little else to get excited about, with neither goalkeeper seriously tested.
Even a late effort from Messi after jinking past Fred was straight at Alisson.
– Bolivia, Peru close in –
Twice world champions Uruguay’s hopes suffered a huge blow as they were thrashed 3-0 at 10-man Bolivia, leaving them seventh in the 10-team group.
A brace from Juan Carlos Arce and another from Marcelo Martins gave Bolivia a comfortable victory that keeps their qualification hopes alive.
Even the dismissal of Carmelo Algaranaz 15 minutes from the end, with the score 2-0, did not ruin Bolivia’s night.
A third win in four matches left Bolivia just two points behind Colombia in the final automatic qualification spot.
Colombia are hanging on by their fingernails after a fifth straight game without a goal — four of which ended 0-0.
Colombia could not force a winner at home to Paraguay, even though the visitors had Adrian Cubas sent off six minutes from time.
Peru’s second win in a row, 2-1 away to rock-bottom Venezuela, put them level on points with Colombia in the intercontinental play-off spot.
Gianluca Lapadula and Christian Cueva goals either side of a Darwin Machis strike for Venezuela gave Peru a crucial win.