Montevideo (AFP) – Paraguay kept Lionel Messi quiet in a goalless draw against Argentina on Thursday in the South American World Cup qualifiers.
The point maintained Argentina’s unbeaten run in qualifying and solidified their second place in the single qualifying table behind runaway leaders Brazil, who were playing Venezuela later.
Uruguay remained third after a scoreless draw with Colombia in Montevideo.
A lively start in Asuncion saw chances at both ends but Argentina’s Joaquin Correa should have done better when put clean through on goal, only for a heavy touch to allow goalkeeper Antony Silva to smother the danger.
Argentina stopper Emiliano Martinez then made a full stretch save to tip Santiago Arzamendi’s piledriver from distance around the post.
Correa got beyond Paraguay’s defence twice more, both times from Messi passes, but was flagged offside the first time and needlessly tried to square the ball to Angel Di Maria the second time, allowing a defender to clear.
Argentina were predictably on top as Messi curled a free-kick from the left wide of the far post.
But despite enjoying almost 70 percent of possession and most of the first half chances, Argentina rarely looked like breaking down their organized hosts.
There was a similarly brisk start to the second half as Correa somehow failed to convert Rodrigo De Paul’s cross to the back post.
At the other end, Martinez blocked Miguel Almiron’s shot from a tight angle after the Newcastle United forward’s mazy run.
Argentina looked set to take the lead on the hour mark when Di Maria’s deep cross found the unmarked Correa but incredibly Mathias Villasanti got back to deflect his free header behind with his knee.
Martinez then had to be alert to parry Antonio Sanabria’s near post flick, while Silva beat away a fierce De Paul drive.
Played in behind the defense by Almiron, Sanabria dragged a shot across goal while Silva made a flying save to deny substitute Nicolas Gonzalez’s curling shot that was heading for the top corner.
Carlos Gonzalez should have won it two minutes from time for Paraguay but skied his shot from 12 yards out.
In Montevideo, Uruguay dominated the first half against Colombia but Luis Suarez had a goal ruled out for a narrow offside and also missed a sitter, opening his foot too far when trying to curl the ball into the far corner.
It was more of the same in the second period with Uruguay enjoying the lion’s share of the chances but neither side found a way to break the deadlock.
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