In a show of solidarity, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez modeled a uniform with No. 20 on the front and Argentina’s Lionel Messi stood alongside him wearing No. 30. The gesture by the Barcelona teammates came on the same day that the two nations — and possibly Paraguay and Chile, too — announced a proposal to jointly bid for the 2030 World Cup.
The World Cup qualifier that followed on Thursday barely matched the pregame excitement.
The bitter rivals drew 0-0 in Montevideo, a result that did little for either team as they scramble to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Argentina’s new coach Jorge Sampaoli, in his first official match, said he left with a “bitter taste.”
“This now forces us to be very precise as we face the next games, because any act of desperation could leave us outside the World Cup,” he said.
Argentina was the runner-up to Germany in Brazil in the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil has already secured a spot in Russia next year, but the other three automatic berths are wide open. One more team from the region can also advance via an intercontinental playoff.
Uruguay edged up to 24 points in seven games, and Argentina reached 23.
It was a night of mixed results and no other South American teams managed to book a place in Russia with three rounds remaining. On Sept. 5 it’s: Bolivia vs. Chile, Colombia vs. Brazil, Ecuador vs. Peru, Argentina vs. Venezuela, and Paraguay vs. Uruguay.
BRAZIL WINS 9th STRAIGHT
Brazil coach Tite stuck to his word and left Philippe Coutinho on the bench and started Willian in his place against Ecuador in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
That changed when Coutinho, who is linked to a move to Barcelona, entered as a substitute in the 58th minute. He scored in the 76th to cap Brazil’s 2-0 victory, showing no sign of a back injury that is reported to have kept him from playing a minute this season with Liverpool.
Brazil has won nine straight World Cup qualifiers since Tite took over a year ago.
On the goal, Coutinho teamed up with Gabriel Jesus and scored with a quick right-foot shot from short range.
Brazil took the lead 1-0 in the 69th goal when Paulinho scored from a scramble in front of the net from a corner kick. Ecuador keeper Maximo Banguera deflected the shot but couldn’t stop it.
Tite said he advised Coutinho to find a club team “where he feels happy; if it’s at Liverpool — if it’s a move to Barcelona.”
Brazil, which has already qualified for the World Cup, improved to 36 points. Ecuador stayed on 20 in seven matches.
Colombia struggled without injured forward James Rodriguez and suspended defender Yerry Mina and had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Venezuela. Venezuela has no chance to reach next year’s World Cup, and the draw did not help Colombia. Colombia has 25 points in seven matches. Colombia has not won in Venezuela since 1996.
“It was a difficult, quick-moving match,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. “For a bit it was played at midfield, and we didn’t have the continuity and we didn’t play as we as we should have.”
CHILE ALSO FALLS
Paraguay had not won in the Chilean capital since 2007. That’s all changed, and the 3-0 victory is a giant boost for Paraguay and a major disappointment for La Roja.
Paraguay took the lead in the 23rd minute on an own-goal by Chile’s Arturo Vidal. It was a stunning header, flicked into the net. Unfortunately for Vidal, it was the wrong net.
Victor Caceres made it 2-0 in the 54th, and Richard Ortiz finished it off in second-half stoppage time.
Paraguay improved to 21 points and Chile stayed on 23.
PERU WINS AT HOME
Peru moved closer to a potential playoff spot when it beat Bolivia 2-1 at Lima. Edison Flores scored in the 55th minute for Peru and Christian Cueva four minutes later. Gilbert Alvarez made it close with a 72nd-minute goal for Bolivia.
Peru was in sixth place with 21 points, two behind Argentina. The Peruvians play at eighth-place Ecuador next Tuesday in their final match.
The top four teams qualify automatically for Russia next year, with the fifth-place team entering a playoff.