Argentina's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa were dealt another severe blow as an out of sorts Albicelestes were beaten 1-0 by Paraguay in Asuncion. Paraguay have joined Brazil as the second South American team to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.
In truth Diego Maradona's outfit were far from convincing and never looked like penetrating the Paraguay rearguard. Their cause was made all the more difficult when veteran midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron saw red shortly after half-time.
The Albirroja, knowing a win would qualify them for the World Cup, started with intent and Borussia Dortmund striker Nelson Valdez had early opportunities to put the home side in front. Salvador Cabanas was a constant thorn in the Argentine side as the home side took the game to Argentina.
Argentina looked lost and their frustration was shown when veteran midfielder Veron upended Christian Riveros with a nasty challenge after 17 minutes.
As the Estadio Denfensores del Chaco rocked to the chants of the home support the Paraguay players responded with a goal just before the half hour mark.
Cabanas played a neat one-two with Edgar Barreto before slipping a neat ball through to Valdez who finished expertly low to Sergio Romero's right.
The only response of note that the Albicelestes could muster came from the mercurial talent of Lionel Messi but the Paraguay defence targeted the Barcelona star, stopping him by whatever means possible, fair or foul. Enrique Vera picked up a booking for his first half challenge on Messi.
Ezequiel Lavezzi replaced Napoli team-mate Jesus Datolo at the break but little changed in the second half in terms of an attacking threat from Argentina.
Then Veron picked up his second yellow with 52 minutes played and dealt a serious blow to Argentina's hopes.
Maradona's side clearly lacked ideas and it was left Messi to try and rescue the game on his own. Boca Juniors veteran Martin Palermo was introduced in place of the ineffective Sergio Aguero but failed to make any telling impact.
Jonathan Santana picked up a booking for yet another foul on Messi and was soon replaced by Eduardo Ledesma.
Messi almost produced a goal on 70 minutes with Argentina's first effort at goal but his shot went wide of the right hand post. It was to prove their only decent chance of the game as Paraguay and Cabanas in particular continued to impress.
A stoppage time half chance fell to substitute Rolando Schiavi after Palermo nodded on a long ball but the ball proved beyond Schiavi's reach. A goal would have proved a cruel blow to Paraguay who were worthy winners.
The Albirroja have booked their place in South Africa and Argentina now cling to fifth place in the qualifying group, which will still give them a play-off place but automatic qualification is now out of their hands with two games remaining.
Paul Madden, Goal.com