Argentina are on the cusp of World Cup qualification after extending their unbeaten streak to 26 games by edging Uruguay 1-0.
Angel Di Maria was the difference away to rivals Uruguay, his sublime seventh-minute strike lifting second-placed Argentina to victory on Friday.
Argentina – who tied their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying record after going eight matches unbeaten on the road – are one win away from basically assuring their spot at Qatar 2022 heading into Tuesday’s showdown against Brazil.
Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina defeated Uruguay 3-0 during last month’s international window, after La Celeste failed to make the most of their chances against the Copa America champions.
It was a similar story on home soil in Montevideo, where Uruguay lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, despite Luis Suarez’s best efforts.
With Lionel Messi on the bench, Di Maria wore the captain’s armband and Argentina’s stand-in skipper broke the deadlock in the seventh minute.
Giovani Lo Celso won possession and laid the ball to Di Maria, who curled a stunning shot into the top corner of the net.
Uruguay continued to press numbers forward and they had a chance to restore parity approaching half-time after Matias Vecino’s brilliant turn created space for a shot, however it was easily dealt with by Emiliano Martinez.
Martinez was left scrambling as Facundo Torres’ tricky cross almost looped over the Argentina goalkeeper before he palmed it behind for a corner in the 63rd minute.
As Uruguay pushed forward in search of an equaliser, it created more space for Argentina to attack and the visitors engineered a couple of decent openings before Messi was introduced off the bench during the closing stages.
With the minutes ticking down, Agustin Alvarez headed just over the bar for Uruguay, while Martinez almost saw the ball slip through his legs and into the net as the hosts’ World Cup hopes remain in the balance.
What does it mean? Argentina can start booking flights
Without defeat since 2019, Argentina can almost start preparing for another World Cup tilt. Argentina are 12 points clear of fifth-placed Colombia, who occupy the play-off spot and have five games to play. Uruguay are adrift of Colombia on goal difference.
Di Maria leads the way
The Argentina winger has a knack for scoring great goals and he was at it again on Friday. In a moment of magic, the 117-cap international found the net for the 22nd time in an Argentina jersey – moving him level for eighth position on the all-time list.
Uruguay toothless again
The biggest issue facing Uruguay was laid bare once more – a lack of goals. As their winless run stretched to four matches following a third straight defeat, Uruguay have only scored once in that period.
Argentina and Brazil – the latter who have already qualified for the World Cup – will meet on Tuesday, while Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay visit lowly Bolivia on the same day.