Brazil became the first team to qualify for the World Cup on Tuesday after beating Paraguay to clinch an eighth consecutive victory as Argentina’s campaign stumbled after the shock suspension of Lionel Messi.
Five-time champions Brazil had been left waiting in suspense after goals from Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Marcelo handed them a 3-0 win over the Paraguayans at Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians.
But Uruguay’s upset 2-1 defeat to Peru in the day’s final South American qualifier combined with other results meant Brazil are mathematically guaranteed a place at next year’s finals in Russia.
The qualification completes an astonishing turnaround for Brazil, who less than a year ago were in crisis after taking only nine points from six games.
That run of results had left the Brazilians outside the qualifying places in sixth place.
The further embarrassment of a first round exit at last year’s Copa America Centenario only deepened the sense of despondency.
However the sacking of former coach Dunga and the appointment of former Corinthians coach Tite was the catalyst for a Brazilian resurgence.
That revival saw Brazil take maximum points from their next eight qualifying games, leaving them nine points clear on Tuesday with four games left.
“When I look at my family — the players — and when we talk to the fans and see how happy they are, that’s when you think ‘I’m part of something very special,'” Tite said after Brazil’s qualification was confirmed.
Against Paraguay, Brazil were already in party mode, with Coutinho opening the scoring on 34 minutes following a deft one-two with China-based midfielder Paulinho.
Neymar had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 53rd minute from the penalty spot only to see his kick saved by Anthony Silva.
On 64 minutes Neymar doubled Brazil’s tally, collecting the ball deep inside his own half and setting off on a surging run down the left flank.
Neymar’s dribble ended with him curling in a shot which took a slight deflection on its way into the Paraguayan goal. Real Madrid defender Marcelo added a late third to seal Brazil’s win.
While Brazil celebrated, Argentina and Messi were left digesting another stumble in their progress towards Russia as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat in La Paz.
Argentina had been rocked just hours before kick-off after confirmation Messi had been hit with a four-match ban following a ruling from disciplinary chiefs at world governing body Fifa in Zurich.
The Barcelona superstar was stunned after being suspended for four of Argentina’s five remaining World Cup qualification matches for swearing at an official in a game against Chile last week.
Messi’s suspension left Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza forced to make a hasty reshuffle to his starting line-up, bringing in Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa in attack while leaving Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero on the bench, reports supersport.com.
But Argentina, clearly struggling in the thin air of La Paz, which is 3 600 metres (11 800 feet) above sea level, were well beaten at the Estadio Hernando Siles.
Bolivia, desperate for three points, tore into Argentina from the opening whistle, spending long periods camped around their opponents’ area.
Juan Carlos Arce opened the scoring for Bolivia on 31 minutes, heading in Pablo Escobar’s inviting cross before Marcelo Martins doubled the home side’s lead early in the second half.
The defeat leaves Argentina languishing just outside the automatic qualifying places following results elsewhere on Tuesday.
Chile moved up to fourth place with a 3-1 win over Venezuela in Santiago, Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez opening the scoring with a stunning early free-kick. Esteban Paredes scored twice for Chile to give the host a 3-0 lead before Salomon Rondon pulled a goal back for Venezuela.
In Quito, Real Madrid star James Rodriguez scored one goal and set up another for Juan Cuadrado as Colombia beat Ecuador 2-0.
Iwobi targets Carabao Cup glory
Super Eagles forward Alex Iwobi is targeting his fourth silverware at his English Premier League side Arsenal as the Gunners face Manchester City in the final of the Carabao Cup at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Iwobi has won an FA Cup and two Community Shield titles with Arsenal and is keen to add the Carabao Cup to his growing medals cabinent.
He has become a key part of the team as coach Arsene Wenger has featured him 26 times in all competitions this term and has two goals and four assists to his credit. He reckons Wembley is a favourable hunting ground for the Gunners and they will add City to the list of their casualties at the National Stadium.
“It’s the ambition of every footballer to lift as many trophies as possible during his playing career and it would mean a lot to me to add this trophy to the silverware I have won so far,” Iwobi told Soccer Laduma. “I am very excited at the opportunity of playing another match at Wembley Stadium.
“This is a very important game for us as we have to keep the momentum going until the end of the season. “We have a very good chance of winning the trophy and will have to be at our best to beat Manchester City, as they are a very good team.”
Obaseki ready to unveil rebranded Bendel Insurance
All is now set for the unveiling of the rebranded Bendel Insurance Football Club and the technical crew ahead of the 2018 National League football season and it will be done by the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki. A statement from the Government House, Benin City and signed by the Chief Press Secretary to Edo State Deputy Governor, Comrade Ebomhiana Musa, read that the technical crew was headed by Monday Odigie as the Manager, while he is to be assisted by Baldwin Bazuaye as the chief coach and Greg Ikhenobas the assistant coach. Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, is the chairman of the committee charged with the responsibility of repositioning sports in the state.
According to Shaibu,” With the calibre of players we have on board coupled with the technical crew, we have no doubt that Bendel Insurance FC are out to thrill football lovers with good play and bring back the old glory associated with the club. Ultimately they will move to the premier league where we believe they are rightfully belong to with the kind of investment we have put into it.”
Lagos Polo: Caverton, Agad, Optima Energy triumph
Lagos Caveron/Sao Polo began their chase for a place in the final of the Low Cup of the 2018 Lagos International Polo Tournament mainly sponsored by GTBank with an 8 – 4 ½ win over Lagos STL. Lagos Optima Energy outgalloped their city rivals, Lagos Plug to also brighten their chances of making it to Sunday’s final.
Martin Juaregi, unsurprisingly, ran the show on behalf of Caverton/ Sao Polo netting a large chunk of his side’s goals while Jamilu Umar and Rotimi Makajuola, the side’s patron, were also on target. STL parading Omololu Agoro, Mario Gomez, Khalifa Ibrahim and Seyi Tinubu, who is the patron began on ½ goal handicap but had their lead wiped off in the opening chukka with Argentine four-goaler, Juaregi scoring twice but STL stayed in touch with a goal by Ibrahim.
The third match of the day saw Lagos Plug having no answer to the intense play of Optima Energy who ran out 7-2 winners. Ibrahim Dantala and Saidu Umar starred as Optima Energy were optimally energized for what turned out to be a resounding victory.. The match between Lagos Agad and Kaduna Trappco which was called-off due to poor visibility was concluded with Agad scoring a goal to win 7- 5 1/2 having led 6 – 7 1/2 before the final two minutes was decided.
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