CORDOBA (Argentina) • Argentina, lacking the inspiration of injured captain Lionel Messi, suffered a humiliating setback in their World Cup qualifying campaign when they lost 0-1 at home to Paraguay.
Paraguay stunned the two-time world champions with a fast break from deep in their own half. Angel Romero played the ball into the path of Derlis Gonzalez, who beat Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero with a shot inside the near post in the 18th minute.
The defeat left Argentina, who dropped seven points in three successive matches without Messi, in fifth place in the South American group with 16 points.
They are one point ahead of Paraguay who had never won a qualifier in Argentina before Tuesday.
The top four go through to the 2018 Finals while the fifth-placed team qualify for an intercontinental play-off for another berth.
Argentina could have got back on level terms two minutes into the second half but Paraguay captain Justo Villar saved Sergio Aguero's weak penalty.
The Argentina striker has not found the net in six games for his country.
"There are no excuses, we played badly," Aguero, who played through injury, said. "We've got to pick ourselves up... turn everything around."
Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, who came on in the second half to try and bring more creativity to the team, was also unimpressed.
"It's a bad moment. We've got to try to get out of this rut in the next matches," he said.
"A national team like ours has to participate in the World Cup."
Left-back Marcos Rojo, one of three men in a makeshift Argentinian defence with little or no club action this season, had the ball in the Paraguay net in the second half but the referee ruled it offside.
In the first half, Argentina midfielder Angel di Maria hit the post.
Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza was unhappy with the result after his side managed to collect just one point in two qualifiers in October.
His side drew 2-2 with Peru last week.
"We came with the idea of making a better match and winning," he told a news conference. "That is why I'm sad and angry."
However, he praised his team for their response after the break, but lamented their inability to find an equaliser.
"We didn't have a good match. We improved in the second half but we could not equalise," he added.
Argentina are in a race against time to improve before the Nov 10 clash with rivals Brazil, who powered to the top of the table with victory over Venezuela.
Goals from Manchester City teenager Gabriel Jesus and Chelsea's Willian secured a 2-0 win in a match interrupted by a lengthy floodlight failure that plunged Merida's Estadio Metropolitano into darkness.
The victory was Brazil's fourth consecutive win of the qualifying campaign and left the five-time world champions on top of the standings with 21 points after 10 games.
It was also the first time since qualifying began that Brazil have led the standings, and the team look firmly on course to maintain their record of never having failed to qualify for a World Cup.
Uruguay fell to second place after they were held to a 2-2 draw away to Colombia.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS