Lionel Messi earns fifth shot at World Cup as Argentina qualify after Brazil draw
Argentina secured a place in next year's World Cup after a 0-0 draw against Brazil, giving Lionel Messi his fifth shot at winning the only major trophy missing in his career.
The result capped a fine year for Messi and Argentina, who won their 15th Copa America in July with a 1-0 final victory over Brazil at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana stadium.
"If we analyse this year, it was beautiful. What we've been through with the fans, everything was complete," said midfielder Rodrigo De Paul. Argentina welcomed back six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi to their starting line-up in San Juan while star forward Neymar missed out for Brazil.
But Messi was unable to inspire his team in a match of few chances, against opponents who booked their ticket to Qatar on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Colombia.
“It is not easy to play with the pace that this match demanded,” Messi said after the match. He had only one opportunity from the edge of the box near the final whistle, but it was easily saved by Brazil goalkeeper Alisson. Brazil remain top of the qualifying group, six points clear of Argentina, who took their unbeaten run to 27 matches.
"We played very well in every match this year. We're already qualified for the World Cup," said Brazil's Fred.
"Today we failed in the final third but the most important thing is coming away without a goal against."
Brazil wasted a two-on-two break when Fred's pass forced Vinicius Junior wide, and his first touch ran out of play.
It summed up a match that never caught fire and in which almost nothing came off from either side.
Quick-thinking Matheus Cunha tried to score the goal of the qualification campaign when attempting to chip Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from inside his own half, but his effort sailed over the crossbar.
Argentina came alive in the last five minutes of the half as De Paul managed the hosts' first shot on target, although Alisson dealt with it comfortably in the Brazil goal.
Brazil had only managed one shot on target themselves in the first 45 minutes, and that was a weak effort by Fred.
The major talking point was how Argentina centre-back Nicolas Otamendi escaped a red card for elbowing Raphinha in the face, drawing blood.
According to reports, Raphinha needed five stitches at half-time.
Brazil coach Tite sounded unusually upset with Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha and his video assistant referees about the incident.
“It is simply impossible not to see Otamendi’s elbow on Raphinha," he said. “Was that going to decide the match? I don’t know. It was a great match, but there is an element (missing) that should be equal for both teams.”
Much-maligned Manchester United midfielder Fred almost became the unlikely hero in the second period when he came closest yet to breaking the deadlock, clipping the top of the bar with Martinez beaten.
Twice world champions Uruguay's hopes suffered a huge blow as they were thrashed 3-0 at 10-man Bolivia, leaving them seventh in the 10-team group, although only a point off the last automatic qualification place.
A brace from Juan Carlos Arce and another from Marcelo Martins gave Bolivia a comfortable victory that keeps their qualification hopes alive.
Even the dismissal of Carmelo Algaranaz 15 minutes from the end, with the score 2-0, did not ruin Bolivia's night.
A third win in four matches left Bolivia just two points behind Colombia in fourth.