Giorgian de Arrascaeta sent Uruguay to the World Cup with the only goal of the game against Peru on Thursday, a result that also booked Ecuador’s ticket to Qatar, with a helping hand from Brazil.
Ecuador slumped to a 3-1 defeat in Paraguay but still qualified for a World Cup for the just the fourth time — all this century — thanks to Uruguay’s victory and already-qualified Brazil’s 4-0 win over Chile.
Nineteen teams have now qualified for the finals in Qatar later this year, with 13 spots still available.
With Argentina, who play Venezuela on Friday, also already qualified, Peru and Chile will now vie for the fifth-place intercontinental play-off spot from the single South American qualification group alongside Colombia, who emphatically ended a seven-match goalless streak with a 3-0 win over Bolivia.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Uruguay since a disastrous spell at the end of last year when they lost four matches in a row, conceding 11 goals, scoring just one and slipping to seventh in the 10-team group.
That spelled the end for iconic coach Oscar Tabarez, who spent a record 15 years at the helm and guided the “Celeste” to a World Cup semi-final in 2010 and Copa America title a year later.
But his successor Diego Alonso has won three out of three and taken Uruguay — winners in 1930 and 1950 — to a fourth straight finals.
Peru had a glorious early chance to take the lead when Andre Carillo picked out Gianluca Lapadula unmarked 10 yards out but Sergio Rochet dived low to his left to keep out a firm header.
Uruguay were well on top from then onwards and fully deserved their opener.
De Arrascaeta blasted home the rebound three minutes before half-time after Luis Suarez saw a shot crash back off the woodwork.
Federico Valverde almost made it two soon after the break, slamming a stunning swerving 40-yard shot onto the bar.
There were some jangling nerves late on, though, as Rochet was almost caught out by Miguel Trauco’s looping mishit cross.
VAR had to check Rochet had kept the ball from crossing the line, and there were barely millimeters in it.
Ecuador’s qualification owed more to a solid campaign than Thursday’s shambolic performance in driving rain on a difficult pitch in Ciudad del Este.
The omens were poor before kick-off as Ecuador had already lost on all eight previous trips to Paraguay for World Cup qualifiers dating back to 1981.
The hosts took the lead on nine minutes after Ecuador gave away the ball just outside their area and Julio Enciso slipped in Robert Morales to fire high into the roof of the net.
Piero Hincapie scored a comedy own goal from 40 yards deep into first half stoppage time, playing a blind back pass with too much power to a goalkeeper who was standing out of position.
It could have been worse moments later but Enciso hit the bar with a volley when more inept defending had let in three Paraguay players behind the defense.
Paraguay did not have to wait long for their third, though, as Pervis Estupinan gave the ball away inside his own area on 54 minutes while trying to control it on his chest, allowing Miguel Almiron to fire low into the bottom corner.
Jordy Caicedo’s late penalty was little consolation on the night, although this defeat will be quickly forgotten amongst the celebrations.
Neymar marked his return to the Brazil team by scoring a penalty while Vinicius Junior, a Philippe Coutinho penalty and Richarlison heaped misery on Chile, whose hopes of qualification hang by a thread.
Chile must now beat Uruguay at home on Tuesday and hope Peru and Colombia fail to win, respectively at home to Paraguay and away to Venezuela.
Goals from Luis Diaz, Miguel Borja and Mateus Uribe kept Colombia’s chances alive.
To qualify they must better Peru’s result on Tuesday but not be bettered by Chile’s. AFP