Win seals Argentina qualification
By Dan Warren
Argentina sealed their place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after securing a narrow 1-0 win in Uruguay.
Mario Bolatti settled a tense and scrappy game, side-footing home after a goalmouth scramble on 84 minutes.
Moments earlier, Uruguay’s Martin Caceres was sent off after a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Newcastle’s Jonas Gutierrez.
But despite the defeat, Uruguay secured their third successive play-off place by virtue of Chile’s win over Ecuador.
The home team will face Costa Rica who had to settle for the play-off spot after a 2-2 draw with the already-qualified United States having taken an early two-goal lead.
Honduras, who won 1-0 in El Salvador, took the third automatic place behind the US and Mexico in the North and Central America and Caribbean qualifying group.
For those who treated me like garbage I say we are in the World Cup with all the honours
There was a fierce atmosphere inside the Centenario ahead of kick-off for Argentina’s vital match in which all outcomes were possible.
Both teams knew victory would ensure outright qualification for the World Cup finals – a draw being enough for the visitors – but defeat would leave them hoping for at best a play-off and possibly facing an exit from the competition.
In the end Ecuador’s defeat in Chile, which ended the visitors’ hopes of making the play-offs, meant neither side could have crashed out.
The early stages suggested a free-flowing affair, with scares for both teams.
Uruguay keeper Nestor Muslera flapped at a cross, while opposite number Sergio Romero saw a clearance rebound off Uruguay forward Jorge Rodriguez – and he was relieved to see it fly wide.
Uruguay’s Andres Scotti headed just wide but Argentina gradually managed to silence the crowd as they gained control of possession – albeit without fashioning any real chances.
After the interval, news filtered through of Chile’s vital goal and that seemed to release some of the tension in the crowd, but still neither side was able to dominate.
Uruguay came desperately close to breaking the deadlock on 74 minutes, but his header looped just wide with Romero beaten.
Only Caceres will know why he decided to haul down Gutierrez, just five minutes after being booked for a foul on Nicolas Otamendi, but referee Carlos Amarilla had no hesitation in showing him a second yellow card.
And the next action saw Bolatti, introduced in the 80th minute for Gonzalo Higuain, finish smartly to seal the win.
Maradona responded to critics after the match, having come under fire for most of the qualifying campaign since taking charge a year ago as Argentina’s manager.
“For those who didn’t believe in this national team, for those who treated me like garbage I say we are in the World Cup with all the honours, beating a team like Uruguay,” the 48-year-old said.