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Argentina remains unbeaten at World Cup qualifying
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina rolled on, Paraguay played the role of giant-killer and Uruguay emerged as the team to watch as the fifth round of World Cup qualifying in South America wound down this week.
With its fifth consecutive win in as many games, Argentina tightened its grip on the top spot with a 2-0 win over Ecuador Wednesday night. In other action, Colombia revived its qualifying chances with a difficult 1-0 away win over Peru, and Bolivia beat Chile 1-0.
While a win over modest Ecuador hardly ranks as a reason to celebrate, the Argentines had cause to be joyous: the team played in a composed and confident manner, with panache and grace. And that's been their trait through the tourney.
Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez, the new Argentine striker tandem for Italian Serie A champion Lazio, each scored goals.
Crespo finished off a perfectly placed Ariel Ortega feed to score his third goal of the tourney, putting Argentina up 1-0 at the 23-minute mark.
Five minutes into the second half, Lopez beat his defender with a quick move and chipped the ball over Ecuadoran goalkeeper Jose Cevallos to make it 2-0.
Even normally critical radio commentators gushed with praise. "Spectacular!" "They look marvelous!" announcers bellowed shortly after the final whistle blew.
Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, however, resisted the temptation following his team's impressive performance. In post-game comments, he instead turned his attention to Argentina's upcoming game against Brazil next Wednesday.
He was upbeat, but on a different note: "It's important that no one was suspended, that nearly everyone will be available for our next match on Wednesday. That will be the true test of this team."
That's exactly how Uruguayan coach Daniel Passarella saw his team's 3-1 win over Venezuela. For Uruguay, the game against the only South American team never to win an away game had all the makings of possible letdown -- especially after a gratifying 1-1 tie against Brazil earlier this month.
But Passarella's team came back from being down a goal to win 3-1 and move into second place in the standings with 10 points, five behind Argentina and one ahead of Paraguay.
Bolivia also withstood a test with a 1-0 home win in La Paz over Chile on a goal in the 85th minute by Roger Suarez off a pass from Percy Colque.
With the win, Bolivia retained a slim chance to advance to the World Cup finals. The hard-fought victory came despite the absence of several key players -- Erwin "Platini" Sanchez, Marco Antonio "Diablo" Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Oscar Sanchez and Jose Carlo Fernandez. Only star midfielder Julio Cesar Baldivieso was on hand for the game.
Sanchez was suspended for seven games after a confrontation with a Peruvian referee in a previous game.
The result was more bad news for a deflated Chilean team, now tied with Peru and Bolivia at four points .
Coach Nelson Acosta complained after the match that "Bolivia beat us with an unfair goal."
But the truth is that so far in the tournament Chile has looked far from the team that scrapped its way to the second round of the 1998 World Cup.
Acosta insisted the loss didn't spell the end of Chile's qualifying chances.
In Lima, Peru, Juan Angel scored in the 48th minute to lead Colombia over Peru.
Angel drove the ball into Peru's zone, dribbling it behind defender Juan Pajuelo's back and smashing it with his right foot past a diving Johnny Vegas.
Peru dominated the first half with aggressive play, but Colombia's goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba shined in the 4th and 18th minutes, deflecting direct shots from Israel Zuniga and Peru captain Nolberto Solano.
With the victory, Colombia moved into a fourth place tie with Brazil. But while Colombians had cause for optimism, the sentiments among Brazilian fans wavered.
The consensus in Brazil is that the World Cup runner-ups are foundering with just two wins in five games and no signs of improvement. After a historic 2-1 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday, fans are openly asking the unthinkable: could the only team to qualify for every World Cup fail to make the next one?
"Something is missing but we don't know what," head coach Wanderley Luxemburgo told reporters after the game.
Almost everything seemed absent against Paraguay. The Brazilian defense again was a sieve. The midfield was slow and uninspired, and the attack was simply inoperative. In five games, the front line is scoreless.
Luxemburgo has a week to get ready for his biggest challenge when powerful Argentina comes to town. Although he said he was "100 percent certain" that Brazil would qualify for the cup, his team has done little to reassure fans.
"We still have no team; Wanderley is lost, and Argentina is coming," said Brazilian sports analyst Marcio Guedes.
"It's the game we're waiting for," said Argentine striker Hernan Crespo.