South American World Cup qualifying is one of the best-kept secrets in global soccer. It regularly produces insanity, quirks and high-level matches. It rarely disappoints. It’s never boring.
On Thursday, the fourth-to-last matchday of the 18-game marathon, it was relatively boring.
And because it was relatively boring, it’s still as crazy as ever.
Heading into Thursday, five teams were within four points of one another. And coming out of it? Seven teams are within five points of one another. Such is life in CONMEBOL.
Draws for Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay paved the way for Paraguay to win the day and vault back into World Cup contention by stunning Chile, 3-0, just outside of Santiago. And with a 2-1 win over Bolivia in the nightcap, Peru joined Paraguay in sixth place, just off the playoff place:
2. Colombia — 25
3. Uruguay — 24
4. Chile — 23
5. Argentina — 23
6. Peru — 21
7. Paraguay — 21
8. Ecuador — 20
With the top four qualifying outright and the fifth-place side entering a playoff with the Oceania champions, as many as four spots are still up for grabs. And they are very up for grabs. Especially after Paraguay injected the entire table with uncertainty on Thursday.
Arturo Vidal gifted the visitors a lead with a comical own goal:
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) August 31, 2017
Chile never really got a foothold in the game, and the tense atmosphere on home soil didn’t seem to help. It conceded a second 10 minutes after halftime, and nerves heightened. The Chileans aren’t in a particularly perilous position just yet, but a home match presented opportunity. Consider that opportunity squandered.
Colombia, the leader of the group, kicked off the evening with an uninspiring but acceptable 0-0 draw at Venezuela. Three points are always desirable against the CONMEBOL bottom-feeders, but the Colombians have put themselves in position to be comfortable with any away point.
And they’re especially comfortable with it when put up against other results. Argentina and Uruguay played to a scrappy – and, quite frankly, dull – 0-0 draw. Luis Suarez started despite being ruled out for a month by Barcelona just two weeks ago. He didn’t look himself. But the Uruguayans stymied Messi and a stagnant Argentina attack. Both sides will take the point.
Ecuador looked set to keep pace in the second-to-last game of the night as it held Brazil fairly deep into the second half. But Paulinho broke the deadlock, and Philippe Coutinho added a second off the bench to put the visitors away. The Brazilians have opened up an unheard of 11-point lead atop the table, and still have never lost a home qualifier.
But even Ecuador can’t be too displeased with the evening’s outcome. It is still within three points of an automatic qualification place. The big loser is Chile.
But the winner is entertainment. Because a distinct lack of it on Thursday set up for a wild day next Tuesday, and likely a whirlwind finish in October.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.