Diego Maradona’s Argentina suffered a potentially fatal blow to their World Cup qualification hopes after a 1-0 defeat against Paraguay in Asuncion.
A 28th-minute strike by Nelson Haedo Valdez saw the Guaranies advance to their fourth World Cup in a row. However there was further misery for Argentina in the second half when Juan Sebastian Veron was sent off. Maradona, who is under intense pressure after a poor campaign, remained defiant in defeat. “It is down to poor form and failures as a team,” he was quoted by FIFA.com as saying. “We must re-start and do the puzzle again. I didn’t think we were going to be like we are. I wanted to be higher in the table. “I am not afraid of criticism. I am afraid of nobody. I am doing my job, I have my team and I am going to go forward,” he added. “I have been battling critics since I was 15 years old. Now I am 48 and I am going to continue to battle with them [the press].”
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The result leaves his star-studded side in fifth spot in the highly-competitive South American qualifying group behind Ecuador, who kept their own campaign on track with a 3-1 victory over Bolivia in the high-altitude surroundings of La Paz. Many teams have struggled when playing 3600m above sea level at the home ground of Bolivia — notably Argentina who were defeated 6-1 there in the last round of qualifiers — but Ecuador acclimatized well. It took only four minutes for Edison Mendez to open the scoring for the travelers before Luis Valencia finished a crisp counter attack to double the lead just after the start of the second half. Cristian Bentitez, who joined English side Birmingham City recently, made it three-nil ten minutes later, completing a good reaction from Sixto Vizuete’s side after their defeat to Colombia at the weekend. With only five minutes left of the game Gerardo Yecerotte netted for the home side for a consolation goal; elimination had already been confirmed with previous results. Elsewhere, Chile were beaten 4-2 by already-qualified Brazil but remain third in the group. Nilmar netted a hat-trick to lead Brazil to a ninth victory in the campaign. In Montevideo, Uruguay kept their qualification hopes alive after goals from Luis Suarez, Andres Scotti and Sebastian Eguren gave them a 3-1 win over Colombia. A brace from Nicolas Fedor gave Venezuela hope as they beat already-eliminated Peru 3-1.