Ecuador 4 (Caicedo 38, Montero 50,75, Benitez 54)
Paraguay 1 (Caballero 15)
Paraguay had to win to remain in the fight for a berth in next year’s World Cup Finals, and took the lead after just 15 minutes through a Luis Caballero header from a corner. It was against the run of play, and the normally stubborn Paraguayans were soon enough overrun by the regions best home side.
The former Levante players Felipe Caicedo and Jefferson Montero turned the match around. First, Caicedo struck home just before half time with a powerful header. Then Montero sent the hosts into the lead five minutes into the second half with a well-placed left footed shot. And just four minutes later, Cristian Benítez made it 3-1 with another header.
Montero, now earning his salary in Mexican side Monarcas Morelia, hit the target again after 75 minutes from a great pass by Luis Saritama. Montero was easily the man of the match, with two goals, and involved in the others.
It was no return for Paraguay, who hardly created an opportunity during the match, and clearly struggled both with tired feet and lack of altitude adaption. They are now virtually eliminated, and need to win their remaining matches to keep the mathematical option on their side.
Ecuador bounced back into second spot, and looks destined for Brazil. With their fifth straight home win, they can now focus on their remaining matches more relaxed, especially as four of them are on the road.
Bolivia 1 (Martins 25)
Argentina 1 (Banega 44)
Coach Sabella’s preparations paid off, and Argentina avoided another humiliation up in La Paz. At first the plan seemed to go wrong, as Lionel Messi was out of breath already after warm-up, and Marcelo Martins sent the home side into the lead after 25 minutes, despite Argentina’s defensive setup.
But the Albiceleste struck back a minute before the break when Ever Banega exploited some poor defending by the Bolivians with a header. In the second half, a clever Argentina conserved their energy by some great passing game, and the Bolivian assault never materialized. Especially Ángel Di Maria had a good day at work, helped by some oxygene at the sideline.
A point for the visitors can certainly be regarded as a win, while the home side probably lost their greatest opportunity for a comeback into a contest for a qualifying spot. After the match, Bolivian president Evo Morales visited the Argentine dressing room to present som gifts to Messi, among them an Andean poncho. The gesture was not well received by the home fans or the Bolivian players, however.
Chile 2 (Paredes 10, Vargas 78)
In a breathtaking encounter between two strugglers, both fancied teams before the campaign began, Chile came out on top through sheer will and effort, and deservedly won in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
Running after everything from the start, it paid off after just ten minutes. Esteban Paredes, hastily brought in as a replacement for sanctioned Alexis Sanchez, simply stormed the ball into the net after a poor clearance from Álvaro Perreira.
Jorge Sampaoli’s ultra-attacking style finally seemed to click, and Uruguay had a hard time to string two passes together. Luis Suárez again hit the spotlights, and for the wrong reasons. On a corner kick, he punched defender Gonzalo Jara in the face, and was lucky not to receive a red card.
But the single goal meant the nerve was still there, and the breathtaking pace continued until the last minutes. The home fans had to wait until the 77th minute before they could lower their shoulders. Sampaoli brought on Matias Fernandez, just back from injury. The Fiorentina playmaker increased Chiles hold on the match, and sent a brilliant through ball to Mauricio Isla. Isla’s finish was saved by Muslera, but the rebound was mercilessly put away by Eduardo Vargas for 2-0.
Paredes had another huge opportunity in stoppage time when he was through on goal, but a poor touch enabled Muslera to clear it. Uruguay never managed to answer, as Medel and Diáz ripped apart the visitors’ midfield build up play. Chile moved into the sought after 4th place on the table, which gives direct qualification, also ending a string of four straight losses. Uruguay, however, is running out of time to get back to their winning ways that led them to the semifinal in South Africa, and the Copa America title last year.
Venezuela 1 (Rondón 13)
The home side took all three points off their neighbours after an impressive display, putting themself in a good position to reach their first World Cup. Fancied Colombia never figured out a way through the Vinotinto defence, and was constantly caught on the counter. That’s exactly what happened after just ten minutes, when Juan Arango sent Salomon Rondón through. The Rubin Kazan striker hammered the ball for the only goal of the game.
That there weren’t more of them was incredible at the end. Venezuela missed several big opportunities to increase their lead. But it was Radamel Falcao who would rue his failure to keep a cool head at the crucial moment. In the final minutes, he brushed aside his marker, and expertly controlled a cross from the left. But applying too much power on his finish, he sent the ball into the crossbar from point blank range.
Venezuela kept their fifth place, level on points with Chile. Colombia don’t need to sweat just yet, with four points down to the Chileans, and with a game in hand. A lot more have to go wrong for them to miss going to Brazil next summer.