Football: Revenge for Argentina, Ecuador leave it late

Argentina's Angel di Maria celebrating after scoring against Chile at the Nacional Stadium in Santiago.
Argentina's Angel di Maria celebrating after scoring against Chile at the Nacional Stadium in Santiago.PHOTO: REUTERS

(AFP) - Argentina avenged their Copa America final defeat to Chile with a 2-1 victory on Thursday as Ecuador scrambled a late draw with Paraguay to preserve their unbeaten start to South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying competition.

Goals from Angel di Maria and defender Gabriel Mercado secured three points for Argentina in Santiago after Chile had taken an 11th-minute lead through Felipe Gutierrez at the National Stadium.

Victory was sweet for Argentina, who were beaten on penalties by Chile at the same venue in the final of last year's Copa America, extending the two-time world champions title drought.

More importantly, the win got Argentina's 2018 qualification bid firmly back on the road after a shaky start last year which saw them win only one of their opening four games.

"I'm very happy with the three points as it was important to come here and get a win," said Argentina's returning captain Lionel Messi, who had missed the first four matches of qualifying last year because of injury.

"I missed being with my team-mates. I felt really good in the first half but I was a bit tired in the second half," the Barcelona superstar added.

Argentina recovered after a rocky opening spell which culminated with Gutierrez's header opener after 11 minutes.

Yet, Argentina got back on level terms after 20 minutes when Paris Saint-Germain star di Maria exchanged passes with Ever Banega inside the penalty area and curled home a right-footed strike past Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

Five minutes later Argentina took the lead.

Di Maria lofted a speculative pass into the Chilean penalty area and when Nicolas Otamendi's knock-down found Messi, the striker held off the attentions of Chile defender Mauricio Isla to square for Mercado, who volleyed home from close range.

Chile upped the tempo after the break and created the better chances, with Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez causing nervous moments in the Argentina defence with a 52nd minute lob that drifted wide.

Chile's Fabian Orellana and Mauricio Pinilla both had good chances in the closing minutes but Argentina held on.

Elsewhere on Thursday, Ecuador scrambled a 2-2 draw with Paraguay in Quito thanks to a controversial injury-time equaliser from Angel Mena.

Ecuador, looking to extend their 100 per cent record from the opening four matches, had looked to be heading for their first defeat after Paraguay recovered from Enner Valencia's 19th-minute effort to lead through two goals from Dario Lezcano.

But when Mena latched onto a through ball from what looked like an offside position, Ecuador grabbed a share of the spoils.

The late blow left Paraguay coach Ramon Diaz distraught.

"Every journalist knows that the second goal was offside," Diaz said.

"It's a shame because Ecuador has a great team and a great coach. They don't need to get help like this. We deserved the three points."