Touch of an Angel wins it for Argentina

MONTEVIDEO • A moment of magic from Angel di Maria was enough to give Argentina, who started without Lionel Messi, a 1-0 win over Uruguay in Friday's World Cup qualifier in Montevideo to edge closer to the Finals.

Uruguay surrendered meekly to Argentina in a 3-0 defeat last month but this time they took the game to their opponents and will feel aggrieved at emerging pointless after having more of the chances in front of their home fans.

"Sometimes you just have to win and we managed that," said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni. "Not playing well, but it still counts."

The match was decided by a moment of brilliance from di Maria after just six minutes.

Uruguayan left-back Joaquin Piquerez lost possession on the edge of the penalty area and di Maria curled a sublime shot over helpless goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

The second half was more even and both 'keepers made important saves but Uruguay's lack of firepower - they have scored only two goals in their last five games - meant they struggled against a typically solid Argentinian team.

Messi, who missed his last two Paris Saint-Germain games through injury, replaced Giovani lo Celso with 14 minutes left for Argentina but made little impact for a side who saw their unbeaten streak increase to 26 games, a run that stretches back more than two years.

"They put pressure on us, they have experienced players, but we were lucky to be able to maintain our unbeaten run and get the three points," defender Nicolas Otamendi said. "We know how difficult it is to play here and we knew that they were under a lot of pressure to win.

"We had to be strong when the game got complicated but we were able to keep a clean sheet."

The victory takes Argentina to 28 points, six behind Brazil, who on Thursday became the first South American team to guarantee their place at Qatar 2022 after beating Colombia 1-0.

The top four teams qualify automatically for the Finals and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional play-off.

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    Argentina's unbeaten streak, stretching over two years.

Uruguay remain four points behind Ecuador on 16, tied fourth with Chile and Colombia. They head to Bolivia to face the home side at high altitude on Tuesday, while Argentina are at home to Brazil the same night.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 14, 2021, with the headline 'Touch of an Angel wins it for Argentina'. Subscribe