Paraguay beat Argentina 1-0 in Asuncion to secure a berth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and complicate Argentina’s chances of qualifying.

Nelson Haedo Valdez scored the lone goal in the 29th minute after a pass from striker Salvador Cabanas. Moreover, Paraguay hit the woodwork twice in the first half and appeared to dominate the match from start to finish.

“We stayed orderly, and that’s what is important,” Cabanas said.

Argentina put on a poor performance even before Juan Sebastian Veron was sent off in the 53rd minute for a second bookable offence.

The drop in form was particularly obvious in Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi — arguably the best footballer in the world — who once again failed to live up to expectations for the national team.

“Paraguay played very well,” Argentina coach Diego Maradona admitted at a press conference.

“We are not yet out of the World Cup,” he stressed. “We have a last chance, we will hold on to that.”

Argentina were conspicuously unable to shine on attack, and Paraguay defended their advantage impeccably.

Paraguay joined Brazil as South America’s first representatives to qualify for South Africa while the Argentine team, led on the pitch by Messi, appeared to be at risk of not qualifying at all, particularly based on poor recent performances, which have brought their qualifying record to six wins, four draws and six losses.

Paraguay’s Argentine-born coach Gerardo Martino was visibly moved by his men’s achievement, but he stressed that it was hard to obtain a World Cup berth.

“You suffer through the qualifiers,” he said.

Earlier, Ecuador obtained a vital 3-1 win against Bolivia in La Paz to keep up their hopes of playing in South Africa while Uruguay got the same result in their home match against Colombia.

Edison Mendez put Ecuador ahead four minutes into the game while Luis Valencia scored a brace for the visitors at high altitude in the 46th and 56th minutes. Gerardo Yacerotte scored the lone goal for Bolivia in the 86th minute.

“We were able to play for a win, and now we can keep dreaming,” Mendez said after the game.

Fans in La Paz showed their displeasure with their team and cheered Ecuador’s play with “ole”.

In Montevideo, striker Luis Sanchez put the hosts ahead six minutes into the game, but the Uruguayan win appeared to be at risk when defender Carlos Valdez was sent off for an ugly foul in the 29th minute.

Just after the break, however, striker Teofilo Gutierrez was sent off for Colombia to put the two sides level on 10 men.

Jackson Martinez equalised in the 63rd minute, but Andres Scotti put Uruguay ahead again in the 76th minute, and Sebastian Eguren set the definitive 3-1 three minutes before the end of the game.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez praised the “rage, rebelliousness and also play” displayed by his men although he admitted that the win was hard.

In a tight edition of South America’s World Cup qualifiers, the first four teams directly get a place in the global tournament. The fifth-placed team will clash with a team from North or Central America or the Caribbean in a play-off with the winner advancing to the World Cup.

Chile is third in the rankings with 27 points from 15 games while Ecuador is fourth with 23 points from 16 games, followed by Argentina on 22 points, Uruguay with 21 and Colombia at 20.

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