Paraguay stunner pushes Argentina to a tight corner

 
 Argentina coach Diego Maradona tries to appear defiant as his team slumps to defeat against Paraguay in  a World Cup qualifier at Asuncion on Wednesday. AFPStriker Nelson Haedo scored just before the half hour to secure Paraguay's place in South Africa next year, sending Diego Maradona's 10-man team crashing to a third successive qualifying defeat and their fourth loss in six qualifiers.

Paraguay climbed to second in the South American group on 30 points, with only goal difference separating them from leaders Brazil, who defeated Chile 4-2 at home later on Wednesday.

Argentina, in grave danger of failing to qualify, dropped out of the top four automatic berths, their place taken by Ecuador. They occupy fifth place, which would send them into a two-leg play-off against the CONCACAF's fourth-placed team.

"I'm not afraid of the critics," Maradona told a news conference. "I will keep on going and do my work. Paraguay played very well with Cabanas and Haedo. They kept the ball from us (up front) and we couldn't resolve that in the first half."

Haedo exchanged a one-two with midfielder Edgar Barreto in a flowing attack that scythed through the Argentina defence before fellow striker Salvador Cabanas set him up to score with a low shot past diving keeper Sergio Romero and inside the far post.

Argentina lost midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, one of their better players in a poor team performance, eight minutes into the second half when he was sent off for a high tackle, his second bookable offence.

As in their 3-1 home defeat by Brazil on Saturday, Argentina played into Paraguayan hands with their short-passing game attempting to work their way through the middle of the defence. Lionel Messi, a key forward whenever he plays for Barcelona, struck a forlorn, isolated figure, largely kept out of the Paraguay box by a well organised defence.

After the final whistle, the Paraguay players hugged in a circle in the middle of the field in prayer, standing on a giant flag with their red and white colours covering the whole pitch.

In Salvador, striker Nilmar scored a hat-trick for a second-string Brazil team as the World Cup finalists beat Chile 4-2. Defeat for Chile, who pulled level at 2-2 through goals from striker Humberto Suazo, left Marcelo Bielsa's team waiting to secure a place in the finals.

Brazil had Felipe Melo sent off in the 52nd minute for a bad foul on striker Alexis Sanchez, but Sanchez himself was shown the red card in the 77th for dissent, his second bookable offence. Nilmar, playing in the absence of the suspended Luis Fabiano and injured Robinho, opened the scoring after half an hour from Daniel Alves's cross. Julio Baptista, also set up by Alves, added the second in the 40th and Suazo pulled one back with a penalty just before halftime.  He completed his hat-trick with two goals midway through the second half, both laid on by right back Maicon, after Suazo's second brought Chile level in the 52nd.

In Caracas, Venezuela beat Peru 3-1 to climb back into the fight for a play-off ticket.

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