South American World Cup qualifying: Chile wins, Colombia stunned, Argentina on the brink

Lionel Messi and Argentina were held to a draw by Peru. (Getty)
Lionel Messi and Argentina were held to a draw by Peru. (Getty)

Argentina is one game away from missing the 2018 World Cup after a third consecutive draw on a wild penultimate day of South American qualifying.

The latest, 0-0 at home against Peru on Thursday, left Lionel Messi and company in sixth place in the CONMEBOL table with one game to play. Only the top five can qualify for Russia.

Four hundred and fifty minutes of soccer across the continent on Thursday yielded little excitement until the day’s final three games sprung into life late. Colombia was minutes away from qualifying before conceding two late goals to Paraguay that left it clinging to the final automatic qualification spot.

Chile, meanwhile, looked to have thrown away two massive points by conceding a late goal to Ecuador, but Alexis Sanchez hit back a minute later and sent the Chileans, previously on the outside looking in, shooting up into third place.

But somehow, 90 minutes in Buenos Aires yielded no goals. And those 90 left Argentina on the brink. Somehow.

Nobody is quite sure how Messi didn’t puncture Peru’s net in a 0-0 draw that, solely in terms of chances, looked more like a 5-0 rout. Nobody is quite sure how Peruvian keeper Pedro Gallese kept Messi, Dario Benedetto, Alejandro Gomez and Emiliano Rigoni at bay time and time again. Shot after shot flew right at Gallese or just by his posts, but never into the corners of his net. Somehow.

Gallese’s heroics, and Argentina’s misfortune and misfiring, kept Peru in fifth place. The top four qualify automatically. The fifth-place finisher heads to a playoff against New Zealand.

Here’s what the table looks like heading into the final round of matches:

(Team — points | goal differential (goals scored))
Brazil — 38 | +27

Uruguay — 28 | +10
Chile — 26 | +2 (26)
Colombia — 26 | +2 (20)

Peru — 25 | +1 (26)
Argentina — 25 | +1 (16)
Paraguay — 24 | -5

And here are Tuesday’s fixtures, which will kick off simultaneously at 7:30 p.m. ET:

Brazil v Chile
Ecuador v Argentina
Peru v Colombia
Uruguay v Bolivia
Paraguay v Venezuela

With 15 minutes remaining in Thursday’s three simultaneous games, only one goal had been scored the entire day. Brazil and Bolivia had played to a meaningless 0-0 draw. Uruguay-Venezuela had also ended in stalemate, a result that, combined with others, essentially secures qualification for the Uruguayans.

In the late games, Eduardo Vargas, set up by the legendary Jorge Valdivia, had given Chile the lead in the first half of its home match against Ecuador:

Colombia then took a lead in the 79th minute of its match against Paraguay. Falcao had the Colombians on the verge of securing qualification:

But a David Ospina mistake let Paraguay back into the game, before Antonio Sanabria won the game in stoppage time and kept Paraguayan World Cup hopes alive and well:

As the madness unfolded in Barranquilla, and as tension reached a fever pitch at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Chile appeared to have coughed up its first win since March. A draw would have kept the Chileans below the World Cup cut line. But exasperation was short-lived. Sanchez eliminated Ecuador, and spared his entire nation a full five-day meltdown.

There was no savior in Argentina though. The hosts had 22 shots to Peru’s two, but neither side could find a breakthrough. Messi had his chances, including an 89th-minute free kick from the top of the box. But everything he or a teammate sent toward goal was blocked or deflected or saved.

With the draw, Argentina’s chances to qualify slipped below 50 percent, according to some statistical models:

The Argentineans can finish no worse than fifth with a win, and would be heavy favorites over two legs against New Zealand. But because of their failure to crack Peru, they sit squarely on the bubble heading into the final day.

More to come shortly on scenarios, odds and more as we look forward to that wild final day.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.