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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Argentina 'still confident' of reaching World Cup as Messi finds lack of support against Peru

Barcelona superstar saw a series of created chances squandered by teammates and Argentina now need to win against Ecuador on Tuesday.

Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli has said he remains "confident" of reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a goalless draw against Peru on Thursday night took their destiny out of their hands.

With one match remaining in the South American qualifying campaign, Argentina sit in sixth place, level on points and goal difference with fifth-place Peru. Colombia, occupying the fourth and final automatic qualification spot, are one point ahead, while Chile in third are on equal points but lead on goals scored. The nation that finishes fifth enter into a two-legged play-off against New Zealand in November.

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It means Argentina travel to already-eliminated Ecuador on Tuesday needing a win to have any chance of claiming an automatic qualifying place.

Despite their perilous position, Sampaoli is convinced Argentina will be in Russia next summer.

"Throughout the match the difference between the two teams was clear," said Sampaoli, who saw his side claim 66 per cent of the possession and have 22 shots on goal at La Bombonera on Thursday.

Screenshot from Fifa.com
Screenshot from Fifa.com

"I am still confident that we will be at the World Cup. I am very hopeful and excited for what is to come. The team gave enormous effort and deserved a different result. Today was a very good match, we just missed the goal."

Looking to captain and star player Lionel Messi to inspire Argentina to a much-needed victory, the Barcelona forward cut a frustrated figure. He hit the post in the second half but could only watch in frustration after serving up a stream of chances for teammates who failed to convert.

"Messi played a great game," Sampaoli said. "He created chances and gave good passes."

Argentina now have four days to prepare for the make-or-break match against Ecuador, and Sampaoli insists attentions have already switched to that encounter.

"The team is already thinking about what's coming in the match against Ecuador," he said.

South America round-up

Chile's match-winner Alexis Sanchez. Carlos Vera / Reuters
Chile's match-winner Alexis Sanchez. Carlos Vera / Reuters

Brazil, who have already qualified in first place, were held to a 0-0 draw by eliminated Bolivia in La Paz earlier on Thursday.

That left the focus on the teams jostling behind the five-time champions for the three remaining automatic spots.

Uruguay, who are second with 28 points from 17 games, missed the chance to book their place in Russia after being frustrated 0-0 away at Venezuela.

The Uruguayans are all but assured of qualification however, needing only a draw or a win against lowly Bolivia in Montevideo next week to book their place.

South American champions Chile, meanwhile, resurrected their qualification hopes with a thrilling 2-1 win over Ecuador in Santiago.

Striker Eduardo Vargas drilled in a low shot on 22 minutes to put the 2015 & 2016 Copa America champions 1-0 up, but Alex Ibarra equalised in the 82nd minute for Ecuador to silence the home crowd.

But with Chile's fans still struggling to digest Ibarra's strike, the hosts went back up the other end and Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez rammed home a close-range finish after Arturo Vidal's shot was only partially saved.

In Barranquilla, Colombia threw away what looked to be a certain victory that would have put them within touching distance of qualification as they crashed to a 2-1 defeat to Paraguay.

Radamel Falcao scored with a deft lob to put Colombia 1-0 ahead in the 79th minute, but the Colombians inexplicably continued to press forward and were twice caught on the break by Paraguay.

Oscar Cardozo bundled in the equaliser for Paraguay in the 89th minute and then Tony Sanabria punished poor goalkeeping by David Ospina to poke in a second in injury time to clinch the win.