Argentina draws after 7-month halt of World Cup qualifiers

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentina and Chile drew 1-1 and Colombia had a 3-0 away win over Peru on Thursday in two of the first World Cup qualifying games in South America since November.

Both matches were played in empty stadiums because of the surging COVID-19 cases in the region.

The result will keep Lionel Messi’s Argentine team in second spot in South American qualifying if leader Brazil doesn’t lose to Ecuador in Porto Alegre on Friday.

In other games, Uruguay and Paraguay drew 0-0 and Bolivia moved from last spot to seventh in the 10-team round-robin with a 3-1 win over Venezuela.

The top four teams will automatically qualify to Qatar 2022. The fifth-place team will go into an inter-continental playoff.

Argentina will face Colombia on Tuesday, in a match where 5,000 fans are expected despite a high number of coronavirus infections in the country. Chile will play against Bolivia.

Uruguay will travel to Venezuela and Paraguay will host Brazil. Peru will face Ecuador.

ARGENTINA 1, CHILE 1

Messi opened the scoring for Argentina in the 24th minute after a video reviewed decision put the ball on the penalty spot. The superstar calmly slid a shot to the left of Claudio Bravo, who jumped the opposite way. It was Messi’s 72nd goal for the team.

Alexis Sánchez equalized in the 35th. Charles Aránguiz took a free kick from the left that ended with Gary Medel behind the Argentinian defenders. He made a low cross which Sánchez pushed to the back of the net.

The teams, which have become bitter rivals since the 2015 Copa America, had late absences because of the coronavirus. Argentina missed goalkeeper Franco Armani and defender Gonzalo Montiel, and Chile had to do without midfielder Arturo Vidal.

“There was a long time that we didn’t get together, but I believe that in some moments we played well,” Messi said. “I am happy for the result, though we didn’t win. Little by little we have to get stronger again.”

Before kickoff, the Argentina squad paid tribute to Diego Maradona, who died on Nov. 25, weeks after the national team’s previous official match. A giant bronze statue was unveiled outside the Único Madres de Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires.

PERU 0, COLOMBIA 3

Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda was under pressure when the match began in Lima, after leaving midfielder James Rodriguez and striker Falcao Garcia out of the squad. But Peru never offered resistance.

Defender Yerry Mina opened the scoring with a header in the 40th minute and, two minutes later, Peru defender Miguel Trauco was sent off after a second yellow.

Colombia doubled its lead in the 49th when right-back Stefan Medina found Matheus Uribe free to head it home.

Luis Dias added the third goal with a powerful right-foot shot from the edge of the box in the 55th. Its push to widen the gap was slowed four minutes later when replacement defender Daniel Muñoz was sent off after a tackle in Peru’s box.

Colombia joined Paraguay and Uruguay on seven points, but was behind on goal difference. Peru is in the last spot.

URUGUAY 0, PARAGUAY 0

Playing without suspended Edinson Cavani, Uruguay had to settle for a scoreless draw with Paraguay, which kept both teams in the middle of the standings with seven points apiece.

“This match made us stronger,” Paraguay coach Eduardo Berizzo said. “We took a point and we blocked two for our rival. A rival with a lot of experience.”

Cavani will not play in the next game, either, because of a suspension. That could force Luis Suárez to play once more alongside Jonathan Rodríguez, who had never started a match for Uruguay until Thursday.

The most controversial moment of the match was in the 24th minute, when Rodriguez found the back of the net but a video reviewed decision ended with a ruling that Matías Viña interfered in the reaction of goalkeeper Anthony Silva.

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Guillermo Garat contributed to this report from Montevideo, Uruguay.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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