By JOEY SAMUEL
When Argentina opened its campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with a commanding 4-1 win over Chile, things looked to be back on track for the Albiceleste after a disastrous 2011 Copa America.
But only two games later, that optimism has completely faded away.
After being shocked by Venezuela in a loss during the second round of matches back in October, Argentina continued its disappointing start to CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 1-1 draw against Bolivia on Friday.
Despite playing against the last-place team in the standings, and the game taking place in Argentina, the squad led by Lionel Messi was once again unable to collect three points against a lesser opponent. Argentina actually had to come from behind, in fact, but Ezequiel Lavezzi's goal preserved a point. The draw left Argentina with four points from three games, three points back from rival Uruguay.
Read on for more from South America, as well as the opening matches in Africa and the continuation of Asian qualifying.
SUAREZ, URUGUAY THRASH CHILE
Chile had no answer for Luis Suarez Friday, as the Uruguayan striker pegged four goals past the Chilean defense to lead his team to a convincing 4-0 win.
Uruguay, which followed up its semifinal appearance in the 2010 World Cup by winning the 2011 Copa America, has had the best start of any team in South American qualifying. In three games, Uruguay has earned seven points from three games, and are three points clear of second place.
JAPAN, JORDAN ADVANCE; AUSTRALIA STUNNED
An eventful day in Asian qualifying saw several nations, including Japan, advance to the third round. One month after thrashing Tajikistan by an 8-0 score, Japan heaped on the misery with another 4-0 win, this time in Tajikistan. It was enough to help Japan move on. A win by Uzbekistan over North Korea meant the Uzbeks were moving on as well out of Group C, putting an end to the North Koreans' hopes. They became the first 2010 World Cup participant to be eliminated from qualifying to the 2014 edition.
Elsewhere in Asia, Jordan advanced to the third round with a 2-0 win over Singapore. Goals by Ahmed Hayel and Amer Deeb were enough for the Jordanians, who have never qualified for a World Cup but who are now in the final round of AFC qualifying.
Australia didn't fare as well, though. They were shocked by Oman, 1-0, on Friday. Amad Al Hosni scored the winner for Oman, which had only earned one point from three games coming in. That result, coupled with Saudi Arabia's win over Thailand, has left Group D completely up for the taking. Any of the four teams could win the group, or end up eliminated.
AFRICAN QUALIFIERS UNDERWAY
The road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil began for the lowest-ranked African nations Friday with the opening round of CAF qualifying taking place. 10 first-leg matches were played, with one more to come Saturday. The second legs will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In Africa, the 24 lowest-ranked teams were drawn together in 12 home-and-away ties to form the first round. Liberia advanced to the second round automatically when its opponent, Mauritius, withdrew from contention last week. The 11 other winners will advance to the second round, where they join Liberia and the other, higher-ranked teams from the continent. The round consists of 10 groups of four teams each. Finally, the winner of each group advances to the third round, where the final ten teams play in a home-and-away playoff series to decide the five teams that qualify to the World Cup.
Here are the scores from the first leg of the first round:
Seychelles 0, Kenya 3
Guinea-Bissau 1, Togo 1
Djibouti 0, Namibia 4
Comoros 0, Mozambique 1
Equatorial Guinea 2, Madagascar 0
Somalia vs. Ethiopia (Saturday)
Lesotho 1, Burundi 0
Eritrea 1, Rwanda 1
Swaziland 1, Congo DR 3
Sao Tome and Principe 0, Congo 5
Chad 1, Tanzania 2
What do you think of Argentina's recent struggles? Do you think they could actually fail to qualify? Which traditional soccer powers could you see missing the World Cup?
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