By DAN KARELL
Controversy reigned supreme on Friday night in Buenos Aires, as Colombia and Argentina played over an hour of soccer with ten men each.
Colombia’s Cristian Zapata and Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain were shown a straight red card midway through the first half by referee Marlon Escalante in the aftermath of what looked like an innocuous foul from Higuain on Zapata and his goalkeeper David Ospina. It was just the first of many dubious calls, as Argentine forward Sergio Aguero had a goal disallowed for a teammate standing in an offside position.
Argentina will feel hard done by as they played to an exciting 0-0 draw with Colombia, though both nations will take the point as they continue their match in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Lionel Messi was cleared to play just before the match and came on as a second-half substitute, but was unable to solve the Colombian defense without enough help up top.
Peru recorded a shocking 1-0 victory over tenth-ranked Ecuador in Lima, while Bolivia scored late to tie Venezuela, 1-1, and Chile defeated Paraguay, 2-1.
Claudio Pizarro etched his name deeper in the hearts of Peruvians with his cheeky finish in the 12th minute against Ecuador, in a match that Peru desperately needed to win.
Pizarro flicked a cross up into the air with his head, and as it came down towards earth, sent a right-footed shot over his left shoulder and into the far side-netting to send the sold-out crowd at the Estadio Nacional in Lima into euphoria.
Peruvian goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, who currently plays his club soccer at first-place FC Dallas, helped shut out Ecuador’s Liga MX stars Cristian Benitez and Walter Ayovi from scoring, as well as stoning former Manchester City forward Felipe Caicedo, putting Peru right back in the race for a place in the 2014 World Cup.
In the extreme altitude in La Paz, an 86th minute finish from Jhasmani Campos helped save a 1-1 draw for Bolivia against the plucky Venezuelans. The visitors took the lead in the 58th minute through a Juan Arango header from a corner kick and seemed on their way to three points.
Bolivia however, to their credit, continued to take shots on goal from deep with the hopes of one scurrying in past Venezuela goalkeeper Renny Vega. Finally the breakthrough came like the prior goal, from a corner kick, which Campos headed in from close range.
Paraguay meanwhile sunk to further lows with a 2-1 defeat in Asuncion to the hands of Chile, keeping them at the bottom of the South American qualification group.
One-time Napoli forward Eduardo Vargas showed off his power with a rocket from the top of the box into the top corner in the 41st minute to give Chile the lead. Arturo Vidal would add the nation’s second in the 54th as he finished off an impressive passing sequence that he started, scoring with a sliding shot from a chip pass from Alexis Sanchez.
Roque Santa Cruz saved face for Paraguay in the 88th minute with a side-foot finish from outside of the box, but the home nation didn’t have enough left in the tank to earn a draw.
As things stand in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying table, Argentina leads with 25 points, a full five points ahead of second and third-placed Colombia and Ecuador, though each have a game in hand over the group leaders. In fourth is Chile with 18 points, fifth sits Venezuela with 16 points. The bottom four read Peru (14), Uruguay (13), Bolivia (10), and Paraguay (8).
What do you make of the results? Which match or matches stood out for you?
Share your thoughts below.