THE DAY REPLAYED - On an evening high on emotion and on which fans across South America had one eye on the five matches being played and the other on the standings, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia got the results they needed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Peru’s hopes of checking into their first world finals since Spain 1982 remain intact after they claimed fifth place, which entitles them to an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand, to be played over two legs on 6 and 14 November.
There was only disappointment for Chile and Paraguay, however, with both losing and missing out on places at Russia 2018.
FIFA.com rounds up all the action on the 18th and final matchday in the CONMEBOL Zone, which brought joy for some and dejection for others.
Argentina endured an anxious build-up to their high-altitude date with destiny in Quito, which began with them in sixth place, out of the qualifying places altogether. The only previous occasion on which the country had missed out on a world finals place was in at Mexico 1970, and it looked as if a second failed qualifying campaign was on the cards when Ecuador took the lead after just 40 seconds. But then Messi appeared, and with him his team-mates.
Thanks to his efforts, the Brazil 2014 runners-up will be making their 17th FIFA World Cup appearance, this after scoring only 19 goals, their second lowest tally since France 1998, when the current home-and-away round-robin league format was adopted.
Though Uruguay were all but assured their place in Russia and could even qualify in the event of an unlikely defeat, they made absolutely sure on a night of celebration at the Estadio Centenario. In advancing to the world finals for a 13th time, La Celeste avoided the intercontinental play-off route for the first time since its inception, in the preliminaries for Korea/Japan 2002. Edinson Cavani was among those on the scoresheet, taking his tally to ten and ending the qualifiers as the leading marksman.
Brazil showed Chile no mercy, retaining their recent hold over La Roja, having knocked them out in the last 16 at both South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. On this occasion, they ended their hopes of reaching a third straight World Cup, a failure that led to Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi announcing his resignation.
Paraguay came within a single goal of claiming a direct qualification place but ended the night with nothing to show for their efforts. A solitary strike by Yangel Herrera, the captain of the side that finished runners-up at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017, heralded the arrival of a new Vinotinto generation and left Los Guaraníes to ponder a second successive qualifying failure.
Argentina's No10 produced his very best football just when his country needed him. The star of the night with his superb hat-trick, Messi ended the campaign as the joint second-highest scorer behind Cavani with seven, despite having played only ten of the 18 matches. His first strike of the evening was also the first by Argentina player in 446 minutes. “We deserved to qualify earlier and it was very difficult here,” he said after it was all over. “The fear of not qualifying was real and I don’t know how we would have reacted to that. It would have been a crazy situation for Argentina, but we managed to win the game in the end.”
“I missed the World Cup in Brazil and then had two horrible years. But now I’m going to Russia. God gave me confidence and I know I can keep on succeeding.”