Just like Barcelona seem to be a not-as-scary team without Lionel Messi in the lineup, Argentina also struggle without their talisman, and those struggles came to the fore in a defeat to Paraguay in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday. While their rivals suffered a shock defeat, Brazil continued their brilliant recent form, with Chile bouncing back from disappointing results with a morale-boosting win.
After playing out a 2-2 draw with Peru last Thursday, Argentina were expected to get the job done at home against Paraguay, but Derlis Gonzalez's 18th minute goal put paid to those hopes.
Sergio Aguero, who recovered in time from an adductor injury to take his place in the team, missed a penalty at the start of the second half, after Gonzalo Higuain's header hit Paulo Da Silva's hand.
There were chances for Angel Di Maria, who hit the woodwork, and Marcos Rojo as well, with Argentina particularly aggrieved with the fact that the Manchester United defender's goal was ruled out for offside, when it could have easily gone the other way.
In Merida, Brazil did not turn on the style like they have done in recent times, but they were still too strong for Venezuela. After Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring in just the eighth minute of the game, Willian made the points safe with a strike in the 53rd minute.
It was a result that took Brazil to the top of the South American standings, after Uruguay were held to a 2-2 draw by Colombia in an exciting encounter. Abel Aguilar made it 1-0 for Colombia in Barranquilla, with Cristian Rodriguez finding the equaliser to keep the game locked up at halftime.
Luis Suarez seemed to have scored the winner 17 minutes from time for Uruguay, while also becoming the joint highest scorer in South American qualifying in the process, but Yerry Mina was there on 84 minutes to salvage a point for the home team. Ecuador were also held to a 2-2 draw by Bolivia, opening up this wonderfully poised South American qualifiers even further.
All those dropped points worked in Chile's favour, with Arturo Vidal the hero for the South American champions, who have been struggling in these World Cup qualifiers. Vidal's goals in the 10th and 85th minutes were enough to give Chile the three points, after Edison Flores had given the team a scare by equalising on 76 minutes.
After ten matches played, Brazil lead the standings with 21 points, one more than Uruguay. Ecuador and Colombia take up the other two automatic qualifying places at the moment, with Argentina, on 16 points, a place and point behind them. Paraguay are now just a point adrift of the Argentinians, while Chile are on 14 points. Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela look to be out of the running.
Results: Bolivia 2-2 Ecuador; Argentina 0-1 Paraguay; Chile 2-1 Peru; Colombia 2-2 Uruguay; Venezuela 0-2 Brazil.