Uruguay 0-1 Argentina: Argentina Qualify
Mario Bolatti came off the bench to write his name into Argentine football folklore with a late winner for Argentina against ten-man Uruguay to send the Albiceleste into raptures while the home side have to settle for a play-off place.
It won’t be remembered as the prettiest performance from the Albiceleste but Diego Maradona’s side produced a gritty, organised display to book their place at next year’s World Cup in South Africa and in truth Uruguay can have no complaints as the visitors were the better side over the ninety minutes.
The game was dominated by free-kicks and it was no surprise that the only goal of a stop-start encounter came from a set piece. Referee Carlos Amarilla eventually dished out eight yellow cards in the game and a red seemed inevitable. It came late on and the free-kick Jose Caceres conceded lead to Bolatti’s solitary strike and condemned the Uruguayans to defeat.
From the off it was a tense affair as Uruguay started the livelier of the two teams but their attacking forays into the Argentine half were tentative as Oscar Tabarez’s men seemed unwilling to commit too many men forward, fearful of the Argentine counterattack.
The visitor’s soon settled into the task at hand as Javier Mascherano gradually stamped his authority on the midfield battle with Jorge Rodriguez.
While neither side created anything of note for large periods of the opening 45, it was the visitors who took control of the game and put the home side on the back foot with Juan Sebastian Veron orchestrating things in midfield. Jonas Gutierrez and Mascherano combined to stifle the home side in the middle of the park and Lionel Messi dropped deep into midfield although rarely influenced the game in an attacking sense.
Although the Barcelona star didn’t really pose much of an attacking threat his presence gave the likes of Walter Gargano food for thought and he was often forced to track back rather than aid his sides attacking cause.
Gabriel Heinze supported Angel Di Maria to good effect down the left and the Marseille man was instrumental in taking pressure of his defence as his surging runs forward had the hosts on the back foot.
Uruguay sparked to life for a brief spell in the second half and Diego Forlan almost caught Sergio Romero napping but his speculative effort was off target much to the relief of the goalkeeper.
Martin Demichelis was a commanding presence at the back for Argentina as they had to whether the storm but the Uruguay charge faded and Tabarez was forced to make changes to freshen the Uruguay attack.
With quarter of an hour left to play Diego Lugano had a great chance to put the home side in front. From a set-piece, inevitably, he crept between the Argentine backline and goalkeeper but couldn’t direct a header goalwards from about eight yards. Instead the ball came of his back and went wide of Romero’s goal much to the relief of Argentine ‘keeper.
It was the Argentine substitutes bench that was to prove fruitful however as Bolatti emerged to give them a deserved victory.
Jose Caceres was the man to eventually see red as he tugged on the shorts of Gutierrez about twenty five yards from goal to receive his second yellow card and from although Juan Veron’s resulting free-kick was cleared his follow up shot was blocked and the ball fell to Bolatti all alone on the penalty spot and he had time to control the ball before slotting it past Nestor Muslera to send the visiting fans, and coach Maradona, wild.
The speculation and doubt is over for Argentina as they secure a place at the World Cup finals while Oscar Tabarez’s men will not be too disheartened as they qualify for November’s play-off against either Honduras or Costa Rica.