x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Argentina World Cup spot in doubt

The two-time world champions suffer defeat in Paraguay meaning they are in danger of missing the finals for the first time in 40 years.

Diego Maradona has overseen the demise of Argentina.
Diego Maradona has overseen the demise of Argentina.

ASUNCION // Paraguay defeated Argentina 1-0, guaranteeing Paraguay their fourth straight World Cup appearance and leaving Argentina in clear danger of missing their first World Cup since 1970. Nelson Valdez scored in the 27th minute following a slick passing move. The defeat was Argentina's fourth in their last five qualifiers and is sure to turn even more heat on coach Diego Maradona. Maradona said after a 3-1 loss to Brazil on Saturday that he would not resign. The defeat dropped Argentina out of the top four automatic qualifying places.

Argentina have 22 points and are in fifth place. The No 5 team in South America faces a two-game playoff with the No 4 country from the Concacaf region for another berth. Paraguay hit the woodwork twice in the opening half, probing on counterattacks as Argentina struggled to defend. Valdez struck the post in the 7th and Jonathan Santana smashed a shot against the bar in the 23rd before Paraguay took a deserved lead.

Sergio Aguero started up front for Argentina in place of Carlos Tevez, who missed the match with a knee injury. Paraguay was boosted by the recovery of goalkeeper Justo Villar, who shrugged off a shoulder injury to make the starting line-up. Argentina's hopes of a comeback were dealt a blow when Juan Sebastian Veron was sent off for a second yellow card at the start of the second half. Maradona replaced Aguero on the hour mark with the 35-year-old striker Martin Palermo in an attempt to revive the Argentine attack.

Lionel Messi tried his best to unlock the determined Paraguayan defence, but his best effort was a shot dragged wide from outside the box in the 70th. With 10 minutes to go, Maradona made a strange choice for his final substitution, bringing on 36-year-old defender Rolando Schiavi for his debut in place of Sebastian Dominguez. Argentina dominated possession in the final minutes despite playing with 10 men. In the fourth minute of second-half injury time, Palermo headed back across the box but Schiavi just failed to connect.

* AP