Argentina, twice world champions, are in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970 after Carlos Tevez missed a first-half penalty in a 2-0 defeat away to Ecuador, in Quito on Wednesday. With four games to play in the 10-team South American qualifying section, Diego Maradona's team sit fourth in the table, two points ahead of Ecuador with Uruguay a further two back in sixth place. The top four teams qualify automatically for South Africa, with the fifth facing a two-legged play-off against the fourth-placed Concacaf team from North America - currently Mexico.
Maradona, whose side host group leaders and eternal rivals Brazil in their next qualifier, was not convinced that Ecuador deserved to win the game, saying: "They didn't do anything in the first half. In the second half, they got a couple of rebounds and they scored two goals. If we had scored a goal, it would have finished the game off." Tevez was upended by Ecuador goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga in the box in the 28th minute. The Argentine-born Elizaga escaped the red card and then saved Tevez's weak penalty.
Left-back Walter Ayovi, with a superb 25-yard strike, and Pablo Palacios scored in the last 20 minutes to hand Argentina their second defeat in four World Cup qualifiers under Maradona. Ecuador coach Sixto Vizuete said: "These three points are worth their weight in gold and we're satisfied because we beat great opponents." Meanwhile, Brazil striker Robinho is hoping to secure qualification with the game in Argentina on Sept 5. Robinho and Nilmar scored in an eight-minute period either side of half-time as Brazil rallied from a goal down to beat previous table toppers Paraguay 2-1. "They were three important points, now we hope to beat Argentina in the next match to seal the qualification," Manchester City forward Robinho said.
Kaka, who this week moved from AC Milan to Real Madrid in a ?65 million (Dh333.5m), tipped his hat to the fans in Recife. "I want to dedicate this victory to the followers in the Pernambucano stadium for the love and support they showed in the more difficult moments of the match," he said. Chile moved closer to World Cup 2010 with a 4-0 thrashing of Bolivia. Led by enigmatic former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa, Chile climbed to second, a point behind Brazil. Both teams can qualify, if results go their way, in the next round of games.
* With agencies