Argentina and Chile on Monday booked their places in the Copa America quarterfinals, ending top of Group A after low-scoring matches that left the other two spots up for grabs.
Argentina logged its second win in three group matches played, beating Paraguay 1-0, with Alejandro “Papu” Gomez scoring the sole goal of a lacklustre match in Brasilia in the ninth minute.
The win placed Lionel Messi’s La Albiceleste top of Group A with seven points – enough to secure its spot in the next phase of the tournament being played in empty stadiums in coronavirus-battered Brazil.
The match marked a personal milestone for Messi, who tied Javier Mascherano’s record for the most games played for Argentina – 147.
But it was not a night of glory for Messi or his team, who in the second half seemed to resign themselves to defending a spirited, but ultimately fruitless, Paraguayan attack.
In the other match Monday, Chile drew 1-1 with Uruguay to end the day with five log points.
With four matches left to play in Group A, Paraguay has three points, Uruguay one, and Bolivia zero, meaning they all still stand a theoretical chance to go to the quarterfinals.
Brazil has already qualified from Group B.
Despite opposition from politicians and citizens, Brazil agreed at the 11th hour to host the world’s oldest international tournament after South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL took it from co-hosts Argentina, battling a pandemic surge, and Colombia where dozens have died in anti-government protests.
The contest had already been delayed by a year due to the pandemic and many players and coaches spoke out against it going ahead before the tournament began.
The build-up to Monday’s Chile-Uruguay game had been overshadowed by controversy in the Chile camp after revelations the team had breached Covid-19 protocols by bringing a local hairdresser into the team hotel.
CONMEBOL said it would fine those involved $30 000.
However there was no sign of the controversy affecting their play, with Vargas firing Chile ahead on 26 minutes from a tight angle after latching onto a clever pass from English-born Ben Brereton.
Uruguay grabbed a share of the points in the second-half when Suarez bundled in the ball from close range during a tangle with former Barcelona teammate Arturo Vidal at the far post following a corner.
Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani almost snatched victory for Uruguay in the 85th minute, but his glancing header flashed just wide of the post.
Vargas’s first-half strike saw him draw level with Peru’s Paolo Guerrero on 14 goals in the Copa America’s all-time goalscoring rankings, three behind the record of 17 held by Brazil’s Zizinho and Argentina’s Norberto Mendez.