In a South American World Cup qualifying match, the sole goal was scored in the third minute, following a corner kick that located Nicolás Otamendi unmarked in the penalty box.

Despite Lionel Messi’s return from injury, he struggled to make a significant impact in the match, hitting the post twice after coming off the bench. Nevertheless, Argentina secured a 1-0 victory over Paraguay.

In contrast, Argentina’s primary South American rival left the field to some jeers in Cuiabá, Brazil, as the home side and Venezuela played to a 1-1 draw. This outcome added pressure to new Brazil coach Fernando Diniz and retained Argentina as the exclusive leaders in the round-robin competition, having secured their third victory in three matches.

The next World Cup, to be hosted in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, will expand to include 48 teams, with direct entry granted to the top six teams in South America. The seventh-place team will engage in an intercontinental playoff to secure a berth.

Currently, Argentina leads the South American World Cup qualifiers with 9 points, followed by Brazil (7), Colombia (5), Uruguay (4), Chile (4), Venezuela (4), Ecuador (3), Paraguay (1), Peru (1), and Bolivia (0). All ten teams are scheduled to participate in the fourth round of matches.

Upcoming fixtures include Peru vs. Argentina, Uruguay vs. Brazil, Ecuador vs. Colombia, Paraguay vs. Bolivia, and Venezuela vs. Chile.

ARGENTINA 1, PARAGUAY 0

The only goal in the match at Monumental de Nunez Stadium occurred in the third minute, courtesy of a corner kick that found Nicolás Otamendi unmarked in the penalty box. The defender delivered a left-foot volley to find the net.

Lionel Messi, at 36 years of age, made his return after experiencing muscular discomfort in his right leg that had sidelined him for several club matches with Inter Miami. Coach Lionel Scaloni selected Nico Gonzalez as his replacement, and Messi entered the game in the 52nd minute, by which time Argentina was already in the lead.

Messi struck the post with a corner kick ten minutes after taking the field at Monumental de Nuñez Stadium in Buenos Aires. However, his other attempts to dribble and provide deep passes did not yield the desired results. A free kick from the same position where he scored the winning goal against Ecuador in September raised hopes among Argentina’s fans shortly before the final whistle, but Messi’s shot hit the right post.

Midfielder Rodrigo De Paul expressed his confidence when Messi is on the field, stating, “I get very calm when we have Leo on the pitch. We are at a very good level. We feel comfortable with the way we are playing.”

Paraguay’s new coach, Daniel Garnero, made his debut against Argentina, but his team displayed limited attacking prowess. The 54-year-old coach took over last month after the first two qualifiers under Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Messi missed four MLS matches with Inter Miami and the U.S. Open Cup final. He played for ten minutes on Saturday in Inter Miami’s 1-0 loss to Cincinnati and had also sat out Argentina’s 3-0 win against Bolivia in a previous World Cup qualifying match in September.

BRAZIL 1, VENEZUELA 1

Brazil faced Venezuela at home and, for the first time, failed to secure a victory against them. Neymar, Vinicius Júnior, and Richarlison struggled throughout the first half to create a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Shortly after Neymar’s first significant chance following the break, Brazil managed to score a goal through a header by Gabriel Magalhães in the 52nd minute, assisted by Neymar’s corner kick at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá, known for its warm climate.

The hosts missed several close-range opportunities, while Venezuela maintained pressure and, in the 85th minute, scored an impressive goal with a half-bicycle kick by Eduardo Bello. Venezuela’s defense successfully held Brazil at bay until the final whistle.

Brazil captain Casemiro remarked, “Now we have to hold our heads up high and think about Uruguay. We wanted to go at them, they wanted to defend, and we couldn’t break them like we wanted.”

In earlier matches, Colombia and Uruguay played to a 2-2 draw, with veteran James Rodríguez opening the scoring for the hosts in the 37th minute, and Matias Oliveira leveling shortly before half-time. Mateus Uribe restored the lead for Colombia in the 52nd minute, and Uruguay equalized from the penalty spot with Darwin Núñez moments before the final whistle after goalkeeper Camilo Vargas was sent off.

Ecuador secured a 2-1 victory over Bolivia in La Paz, with the winning goal scored in the final moments of the match. Chile triumphed 2-0 against Peru, with Diego Valdéz and an own goal by Marcos López sealing the victory.

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