Football around the world: Argentina back in form

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The Independent Online
South America

Reports of Argentina's demise are, it seems, premature. After months of moaning from the critics, notably Diego Maradona, they produced their best performance of the World Cup qualifying campaign with an 1-0 away win in Colombia.

It was a typically attritional Argentinian performance. The goal arrived early, and they defended their lead with dogged determination - especially after having had a man sent off just before half-time.

Argentina also gained revenge for one of their greatest humiliations: a 5-0 home defeat to Colombia in 1993. Wednesday's win, which silenced a crowd of 60,000 in Barranquilla, also ended Colombia's unbeaten run in the qualifying tournament.

A bizarre mistake by goalkeeper Farid Mondragon allowed Claudio Lopez to score the 10th-minute goal which led to Colombia's first home World Cup defeat in 12 years. Mondragon thought that Lopez's long-range shot was going out of play and let it go past him - only to see it bounce into the net. "The ball had a strange spin on it," he said.

The Argentina defender Eduardo Berizzo was sent off for a 45th-minute foul while, nine minutes later, Colombia's Mauricio Serna missed a penalty to complete a bad day for his side, for whom Newcastle's Faustino Asprilla was innocuous up front.

Colombia have been joined at the top of the table (the top four qualify for France 98) by Paraguay, who beat Peru 2-1 at home and now trail the Colombians only on goal difference.

Paraguay are the group's surprise package. Five of their remaining eight games are in the intimidating "Defenders of the Chaco" stadium in Asuncion, where they have a 100 per-cent record in this tournament.

Argentina are third, one point ahead of unfancied Ecuador. They caused a major upset with their 4-0 thrashing of Uruguay, who had three players sent off in the last five minutes - despite being warned by Fifa about their behaviour after having seven men booked against Chile last year.

Ecuador - yet to play in the World Cup finals - are coached by Francisco Maturana, the man who led Colombia to the last two World Cups. In the other game in , Bolivia were held to a 1-1 draw by Chile in La Paz.