Argentina dropped into the intercontinental playoff spot at the halfway mark of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying in South America, as the top five begin to pull away.
With the fifth-placed team from CONMEBOL facing the winner of OFC qualifying in a two-legged intercontinental playoff in November 2017, many eyes around the Pacific are casting a watchful eye over which nation will stand in the way of a place in the FIFA World Cup finals for Oceania’s best.
Nine matches into the round robin, and with the same amount left to play, there is just three points between the entire top five. The qualifying picture will undergo many touch ups yet but currently Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina are most in the frame to finish fifth with just goal difference separating the trio. Sixth placed Paraguay are four points adrift of the pack.
Argentina looked to have got their nose above playoff water in Peru but the home side fought back twice in Lima to eventually grab a 2-2 draw with Christian Cueva sealing a share of the points from the penalty spot six minutes from time.
Ramiro Funes Mori has earlier given La Albiceleste – missing the injured Lionel Messi – a 16th minute lead but that was cancelled out by Paolo Guerrero before Gonzalo Higuan looked to have won the match with his 77th minute goal.
Elsehwere, Colombia left it late in Asuncion against Paraguay but the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinalists still claimed a valuable 1-0 away win and moved themselves into the automatic qualification spots thanks to Edwin Cardona’s injury time strike.
Ecuador moved into third with a comfortable 3-0 win over Copa America champions Chile in Quito to continue their drive towards automatic qualification. The home side went ahead through Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and doubled the lead four minutes later thanks to Cristian Ramírez. Felipe Caicedo netted just after halftime as Ecuador eased to victory.
Meanwhile, Uruguay maintained their charge at the top of the Eliminatoria with a 3-0 win over 10-man Venezuela in Montevideo. American-based midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro headed the two-time World Cup winners in front just before the half hour mark and a second half Edison Cavani double wrapped up all three points.
Second-placed Brazil kept up the chase with a rampant 5-0 thumping of Bolivia in Natal. Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Filipe Luis and Gabriel Jesus all netted in the first spell with Firmino completing the rout midway through the second.
Argentina kept their nose above playoff water, consolidating third place with a 2-1 win over Peru away from home. Even without the injured Lionel Messi, the Albiceste still had enough firepower to edge the Peruvians in Lima with Gonzalo Higuain netting the winner 13 minutes from time after Paola Guerrero had cancelled out Ramiro Funes Mori’s opener.
Stage 3 of OFC qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup begins next month with Solomon Islands and Tahiti locking horns in Group B (Nov 7 and 13) and OFC Nations Cup winners New Zealand squaring off against New Caledonia in Group A (Nov 12 and 15). Fiji (Group A) and Papua New Guinea (Group B) and are waiting in the wings.
Stage 3 then continues through FIFA windows in 2017 with the group winners meeting home and away in August and September for a place in the intercontinental playoff – the final hurdle to a place in Russia 2018.