Argentina joined Brazil in qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar despite the arch-rivals playing out a dour 0-0 draw in San Juan on Tuesday. Defeats for Uruguay (3-0 to Bolivia) and Chile (2-0 to Ecuador) ensured Argentina, unbeaten in 27 matches, booked their ticket, leaving just two more automatic spots available in South American qualifying with four matches left. It caps a fine year for Argentina and Lionel Messi, who won their 15th Copa America in July with a 1-0 final victory over Brazil at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium. It is also the 13th time in a row that Argentina have qualified for the World Cup having failed to qualify only once, for the 1970 finals in Mexico.
Brazil secured their qualification on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Colombia.
Argentina welcomed back six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi to their starting line-up while star forward Neymar missed out for Brazil.
But Messi was unable to inspire his team in a match of few chances, against opponents who booked their ticket to Qatar on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Colombia.
Brazil remain top of the qualifying group, six points clear of Argentina, who took their unbeaten run to 27 matches.
Brazil wasted a two-on-two break when Fred’s pass forced Vinicius Junior wide, and his first touch ran out of play.
It summed up a match that never caught fire and in which almost nothing came off from either side.
Quick-thinking Matheus Cunha tried to score the goal of the qualification campaign when attempting to chip Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from inside his own half, but his effort sailed over the crossbar.
Argentina came alive in the last five minutes of the half as Rodrigo de Paul managed the hosts’ first shot on target, although Alisson Becker dealt with it comfortably in the Brazil goal.
Brazil had only managed one shot on target themselves in the first 45 minutes, and that was a weak effort by Fred.
Much-maligned Manchester United midfielder Fred almost became the unlikely hero in the second period when he came closest yet to breaking the deadlock, clipping the top of the bar with Martinez beaten.
But there was little else to get excited about, with neither goalkeeper seriously tested.
Even a late effort from Messi after jinking past Fred was straight at Alisson.
Ecuador, meanwhile, look set to join the two continental giants, sitting in third with a six-point gap to the next team and only four matches left to play.
But the fourth automatic qualification spot will go down to the wire with five teams separated by just two points.
Only Venezuela, rock bottom of the 10 team single South American qualifying group, appear out of the running.
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