Bauza: We are not Messi-dependent
Argentina captain scores penalty winner to keep qualification hopes alive
Lionel Messi converted a penalty as Argentina laboured to a 1-0 win over Chile in a World Cup qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time) that put them back in the automatic qualifying spots for next year's Finals in Russia.
Messi beat Claudio Bravo from the spot in the 16th minute, after Angel di Maria had been pushed from behind in the first quarter of a poor, tense match on a terrible River Plate pitch.
Argentina, a shadow of the team who finished as World Cup runners-up in 2014, moved into third place in the 10-nation South American group on 22 points, eight behind leaders Brazil and one adrift of second-placed Uruguay.
When asked about Messi's significance to his team, Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza: "I do not think the team are Messi-dependent. He played a good game. Time to work, we will improve."
Chile were missing suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal, but deserved at least a draw.
They gave Argentina an early scare when they had the ball in the net after a free-kick from the left, only for Jose Fuenzalida to be ruled offside.
Argentina took the lead when Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci ruled that Fuenzalida had pushed di Maria as he chased a fine through-ball from Javier Mascherano.
Messi sent Bravo the wrong way and buried the ball in the back of the net to a roar from a wildly passionate 60,000 crowd at El Monumental.
"We suffered because we lost the ball but, at least, we won," said a relieved Bauza.
Meanwhile, a superb hat-trick from China-based midfielder Paulinho powered Brazil to a 4-1 drubbing of Uruguay in Montevideo to leave the five-time world champions all but certain of a place at Russia 2018.
The Brazilians now lead the 10-team competition by seven points after their latest win.
The top four teams in the standings qualify automatically and, with only five rounds remaining, it would take a freakish set of results to deny Brazil.
Uruguay had taken the lead after only nine minutes when Brazil goalkeeper Alisson brought down Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani for a penalty.
Cavani got to his feet and drilled the spot-kick beyond the Brazilian goalkeeper to put Uruguay 1-0 up. But Paulinho produced a thunderbolt 10 minutes later, uncorking a screamer into the top corner from 25 metres to level at 1-1.
The former Tottenham man then stabbed home Philippe Coutinho's shot in the 51st minute to make it 2-1.
Barcelona superstar Neymar added a third with a sublime chip in the 75th minute to effectively settle the contest.
Paulinho completed his hat-trick in injury time, turning in a low cross with his chest to cap a fine display.
Uruguay, who were missing the suspended Luis Suarez, remain in second place in the standings.
"To come here and win by any score is a great result," said Brazil coach Tite.
"Playing in this stadium and beating Uruguay is difficult for anyone."
Uruguay skipper Diego Godin said the result was not an accurate reflection of the game.
"We trained well and looked strong," the Atletico Madrid defender said.
"It's a bitter result. We had chances. This doesn't reflect the game, but this is a wake-up call." - WIRE SERVICES
Colombia 1 Bolivia 0
Paraguay 2 Ecuador 1
Uruguay 1 Brazil 4
Venezuela 2 Peru 2