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Paraguay, Brazil close to World Cup

By Brian Homewood
© Reuters Limited

Brazilian striker Denislon (R) battles for the ball with Chilean Cancino in Curitiba October 7. Brazil won 2-0.
Photo Paulo Whitikerr, Reuters
Paraguay, despite an encounter with the "Hand of God", and Brazil moved closer to next year's World Cup on Sunday while Uruguay appeared to be headed for a play-off with Australia.

Paraguay's 2-2 draw with Argentina, for whom Mauricio Pochettino appeared to emulate Diego Maradona's infamous goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, kept them firmly on course for their second successive World Cup.

Brazil, the only team to have played at every World Cup, struggled to a 2-0 win over an experimental Chilean team and were greatly helped by the result in Montevideo, where Uruguay and Colombia dented each other's chances with a 1-1 draw.

Sunday's results also boosted Ecuador's chances of reaching their first World Cup following Saturday's 5-1 mauling of Bolivia in La Paz.

Ecuador need only to draw at home to Uruguay next month to book their place.

With two matches each to play, Argentina continue as runaway leaders of the South American group with 39 points, followed by Paraguay (30), Ecuador (29), Brazil (27), Uruguay (25) and Colombia (21).

Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Bolivia are out of the running.

The top four qualify and the fifth plays off against Oceania winners Australia. Argentina have already qualified and made sure of first place with Sunday's draw.

Electifying Game
South America's top two teams produced an electrifying encounter in Asuncion which provided a bit of everything - excellent football, gamesmanship, wild tackling and controversy.

Paraguay's eccentric goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, playing against his favourite rivals, fired the home team in front from a 51st minute penalty, his fourth of the competition to make him his team's second topscorer.

Paraguay's goalie Jose Luis Chilavert (L) teases and embraces his friend, Argentine goalie Pablo Cavallero, before making a penalty kick to score his team's first goal. Paraguay tied Argentina 2-2.
Photo Reuters
It was his second World Cup qualifying goal against Argentina, the first coming from a free kick in a game in 1996.

The penalty was controversially awarded but Argentina had ample revenge in the 67th minute when Pochettino deflected Juan Veron's corner into the goal.

Paraguay argued he punched the ball in and television replays appeared to support their claims.

Gustavo Morinigo headed Paraguay back in front three minutes later but there was more drama in the 74th minute when Gabriel Batistuta, who had waited a year for his international recall, celebrated by sliding in the equaliser from a rebound.

Batitusta, repeatedly overlooked by coach Marcelo Bielsa despite his reputation as one of the world's top strikers, nearly won the game three minutes later but his header was turned away by the irrepressible Chilavert.

Paraguay now need two points from two games to qualify.

Brazil's game against bottom team Chile, for whom Jorge Garces was making his debut as their third coach in six months, looked a formality but turned into a dour struggle.

The four times world champions, looking disjointed and lacking ideas, made little headway against a packed defence in the first half but came to life after winger Denilson was brought on as a halftime substitute.

Rivaldo Proud
Edilson broke the deadlock eight minutes into the second half and former World Player of the Year Rivaldo made the game safe in the 67th minute.

Colombian Freddy Grisales (19) tries to stop Uruguayan defender Dario Rodriguez in Montevideo. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Photo Pablo La Rosa, Reuters
The Barcelona player, often accused of saving his best for his Spanish club, was delighted to go off with applause ringing in his ears.

"It's the first time I've left the field to applause playing for the national team," he said. "I feel very happy. I'm very proud to serve the national team."

Uruguay appeared to have ended Colombia's last chances of qualifying for a fourth successive World Cup when they took a 34th minute lead in Montevideo from a Federico Magallanes penalty in the Centenario stadium, where they won the first World Cup 71 years ago.

But a long-range 67th minute effort by Arnaulfo Valentierra kept Colombia in with a mathematical chance of finishing fourth or fifth.

Uruguay, who were once a major power in the game but have not played at a World Cup since 1990, still look likely to face Australia over two legs.


Football Calendar
Efforts to achieve a standardised international football calendar have led to the official adoption of a schedule for the years 2002 to 2004.
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