Argentina maintain prime form

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The Independent Football

Argentina Rolled on, Paraguay played the role of giant-killers by beating Brazil and Uruguay emerged as the team to watch as the fifth round of World Cup qualifying in South America wound down this week. Argentina tightened their grip on first place with a 2-0 win over Ecuador on Wednesday night, their fifth win in as many games. In other action, Colombia revived their qualifying chances with a difficult 1-0 away win over Peru, and Bolivia beat Chile 1-0.

Argentina Rolled on, Paraguay played the role of giant-killers by beating Brazil and Uruguay emerged as the team to watch as the fifth round of World Cup qualifying in South America wound down this week. Argentina tightened their grip on first place with a 2-0 win over Ecuador on Wednesday night, their fifth win in as many games. In other action, Colombia revived their qualifying chances with a difficult 1-0 away win over Peru, and Bolivia beat Chile 1-0.

While victory over modest Ecuador hardly ranks as a reason to celebrate, the Argentinians had cause to be joyous: the team continued to play in a composed and confident manner, with panache and grace - in direct contrast to the bungling Brazilians, who are now fifth in the 10-team table.

Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez, the new Argentinian strike partnership for the Italian champions, Lazio, each scored goals. Crespo finished off a perfectly placed Ariel Ortega feed to score his third goal of the tournament, putting Argentina up 1-0 after 23 minutes. Five minutes into the second half, Lopez beat his marker with a quick move and chipped the ball over the Ecuadorean goalkeeper, Jose Cevallos, to make it 2-0.

Even normally critical radio commentators said after the final whistle: "Spectacular. They look marvellous."

Argentina's coach, Marcelo Bielsa, immediately turned his attention to Argentina's game against Brazil in São Paulo next Wednesday. "It's important that nearly everyone will be available for Wednesday. That will be the true test of this team," he said.

That is exactly how Uruguay's coach, Daniel Passarella, saw his team's 3-1 victory over Venezuela. For Uruguay, the game against the only South American team never to win an away game had all the makings of possible let-down - especially after a gratifying 1-1 draw against Brazil earlier this month. But Passarella's team came back from being a goal down to win 3-1 and move into second place in the standings with 10 points, five behind Argentina and one ahead of Paraguay. Bolivia also withstood a test with a 1-0 home win over Chile through a goal in the 85th minute by Roger Suarez.

The consensus in Brazil and the rest of South America is that the World Cup runners-up are foundering with just two wins in five games and no signs of improvement. After a historic 2-1 defeat by Paraguay on Tuesday, fans are asking the unthinkable: could the only team to qualify for every World Cup so far fail to make the next one? "Something is missing but we don't know what," their head coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, said.

Almost everything seemed absent against Paraguay. The defence again was a sieve, the midfield slow and uninspired, and the attack did not function. "We still have no team, Wanderley is lost and Argentina is coming," said a Brazilian commentator. Crespo said: "It's the game we're waiting for."

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