Montevideo (AFP) – Argentina took their unbeaten run to 25 matches and moved a step closer to qualifying for the World Cup with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Peru on Thursday.
Lautaro Martinez scored the only goal of the game two minutes before the break with a powerful header while Yoshimar Yotun missed a second half penalty for Peru.
It leaves Argentina second behind Brazil in the single South American qualifying group, with a nine point gap to those that could deny them a berth at Qatar 2022.
Argentina last lost in the 2019 Copa America semi-finals — 2-0 against Brazil.
Since then the South American giants have been unstoppable, beating Brazil twice on their run, including earlier this year in the 2021 Copa America final.
In the early stages in Buenos Aires, Peru looked capable of causing an upset, with striker Gianluca Lapadula particularly lively.
The Italian-born 31-year-old stung Emiliano Martinez’s palms with a free-kick and then galloped onto a Christopher Gonzales through ball, only to prod his attempted lob straight into the Argentina goalkeeper’s midriff.
Most of the action was at the other end, though, and center-back Cristian Romero headed in a Rodrigo De Paul free-kick, only to be flagged offside.
Another delightful cross from De Paul picked out the recalled Angel Di Maria on the corner of the six-yard box, but he blazed his volley well wide.
Peru’s approach was industrious and crude, with Lionel Messi subjected to several rash challenges.
Argentina took the lead two minutes before half-time as Lautaro Martinez sent a bullet header from Nahuel Molina’s cross straight over goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s head.
– Woodwork saves Martinez –
Peru were given a lifeline 20 minutes into the second half after bringing on the pacey Jefferson Farfan, who almost immediately broke clear of the Argentina defense before Emiliano Martinez brought him down in the box.
But Yotun’s wild penalty clipped the top of the bar to give Martinez a huge let-off.
Messi had an immediate chance to punish Yotun with a free-kick from 20 yards but Gallese was equal to his low curled effort.
Argentina had the ball in the net for a third time two minutes from the end but Guido Rodriguez’s header was ruled out for a push on Marcos Lopez.
Colombia and Ecuador played out a fractious ill-tempered 0-0 draw in Barranquilla that did little to boost either side’s qualification hopes as they battle for a top four finish.
The match lasted more than 15 minutes over the regulation 90 due to two interminable second half VAR breaks.
The first overturned a decision to award Ecuador a penalty while the second, 10 minutes into time added on, eventually chalked off what had appeared to be a winning goal by giant Colombia center-back Yerry Mina.
The petulant encounter ended with Colombian players surrounding Peruvian referee Diego Haro to harangue him over the disallowed strike.
Bolivia recorded a second straight victory in La Paz to revitalize their qualification hopes as goals by Rodrigo Ramallo, Moises Villarroel, Victor Abrego and Roberto Fernandez saw them cruise to a 4-0 win over Paraguay.