Peru got the win they needed to guarantee a World Cup play-off spot on Tuesday and Gianluca Lapadula, the man who sent them on their way, has been embraced as the country’s new hero.
The Andean side needed to beat Paraguay to make sure of the play-off spot and 32-year-old striker Lapadula’s early goal settled their nerves before Yoshimar Yotun scored a second.
Lapadula – who also saw headers hit the woodwork in each half – received a standing ovation as he left the field.
Coach Ricardo Gareca was forced to find a replacement for the talismanic striker Paolo Gurrero, who scored 39 goals for the national side. He hit on Lapadula, a journeyman striker who has bounced around the Italian leagues for more than a decade.
Gareca gave the Benevento player a debut in November 2020 at the age of 30 and he has not let him down. Since then, “El Bambino” has stepped in to fill the Guerrero void, scoring seven goals in 20 games.
The Peruvians needed a win to qualify regardless of the results of Colombia and Chile. They finished the 10-team round-robin competition with 24 points, one ahead of the Colombians.
That intercontinental play-off in June will be against either Australia or United Arab Emirates – the teams who are playing off for fifth place in Asian qualifying.
Peru were also fifth in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, and advancing to the finals by beating New Zealand. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador have already secured South America’s four direct entries for Qatar.
Brazil break Argentina’s points record
Also on Tuesday, Brazil achieved a landmark with a 4-0 rout of Bolivia. With 45 points, Tite’s team broke Argentinas record of 43 in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
That result sees Brazil with an unbeaten qualifying campaign and is expected to lift them to first in the next FIFA rankings.
Playing without suspended Neymar and Vinicius Junior, Brazil eased through with two goals from Richarlison and others from Lucas Paquet and Bruno Guimares.
Matches in the altitude of La Paz are often dreaded by non-Bolivian players in South American qualifying. Brazil coach Tite came under fire before the match for describing the conditions at more than 3,600 metres above sea level as inhuman.
Still, Tite continued to experiment with his combinations, replacing seven players that started the 4-0 win against Chile last week.
Out went Danilo, Thiago Silva, Guilherme Arana, Casemiro and Fred plus the suspended Neymar and Vinicius Jr. Tite replaced them with Dani Alves, der Milito, Alex Telles, Fabinho, Bruno Guimares, Philippe Coutinho and Richarlison.
That formation had never played together, but Brazil scored their first goal after a run by Guimares’ ended with an assist to Paquet, who easily put the ball in the back of the net.
As the first half ended, Brazil scored their second with Antony’s low cross finding Richarlison unmarked to score.
Bolivia forced goalkeeper Alisson into some important saves in the second half, but Guimares’ goal in the 66th minute, with an assist by Paquet, ruined any chances for the hosts to turn the match around. Richarlison scored his second from close range before full-time.
Suarez moves ahead of Messi as top qualifying scorer
Luis Suarez moved ahead of Lionel Messi as the top scorer in South American World Cup qualifiers with his 29th goal, a bicycle kick that helped Uruguay to a 2-0 win over Chile.
“Special night, special game, special shirt and a goal”, Suarez wrote on social media alongside a picture of him holding his shirt from the match.
“What more could I ask for in unique and unforgettable moments for my country?”
The South American Football Confederation said Suarez’s 29 goals came in 62 games – two games more than Messi – and his latest was typically spectacular, a bicycle kick from four metres out with 11 minutes remaining.
Federico Valverde doubled Uruguay’s lead in the final moments of the match to cement a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the side under Diego Alonso.
Alonso took over from Oscar Tabarez in December last year after four successive defeats put their qualification hopes in jeopardy and he has since guided his side to four straight wins. Uruguay finished third in the qualifying group behind Brazil and Argentina.
In other results, Colombia beat Venezuela 1-0, with James Rodriguez scoring the only goal from the spot in first-half stoppage time.
Ecuador dropped to fourth place after a 1-1 draw with Argentina. Julian Alvarez opened the scoring in the 24th minute, but Enner Valencia equalized in stoppage time.
Australia stumble again in Saudi Arabia loss
The pressure on Australia coach Graham Arnold was not eased by the Socceroos – already out of the running for a direct ticket to Qatar – ending the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying with a whimper in a 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.
Australia’s bid to play in a fifth successive World Cup now rests on beating United Arab Emirates in Doha in June for the right to represent Asia in the intercontinental play-off against Peru, also in the Qatari capital.
The failure to qualify directly for the finals by finishing third in their group behind the Saudis and Japan is weighing heavily on Arnold, whose potential successor is already a matter of much conjecture in the local media.
Arnold led Australia to 11 straight wins early in the qualifiers but their record in their last seven matches in the campaign has been an unimpressive one win, three losses and three draws.
While sacking Arnold before the play-offs might be considered a gamble, the Socceroos are no strangers to coaching turmoil ahead of a World Cup.
German Holger Osieck was sacked after securing direct qualification to the 2014 World Cup, while his replacement Ange Postecoglou walked away from the job after Australia had secured a ticket to the 2018 finals via the play-offs.