CORDOBA, Argentina (Reuters) – Argentina, lacking the inspiration of injured captain Lionel Messi, suffered a humiliating setback in their World Cup qualifying campaign when they lost 1-0 at home to Paraguay on Tuesday.
Paraguay stunned the twice world champions with a fast break from deep in their own half, Angel Romero playing the ball into the path of Derlis Gonzalez who beat Sergio Romero with a shot inside the near post in the 18th minute.
The defeat left Argentina, who dropped seven points in three successive matches without Messi, in fifth place in the South American group with 16 points, one point ahead of Paraguay who had never won a qualifier in Argentina before.
Argentina are five points behind new leaders Brazil, who won 2-0 in Venezuela, before visiting their arch-rivals in Belo Horizonte on Oct. 10.
Uruguay dropped to second on 20 points with Ecuador third on 17, level with Colombia, who are in fourth on goal difference.
The top four go through to the 2018 finals in Russia while the fifth placed team qualifiers for an intercontinental playoff for another berth.
Argentina could have got back on level terms two minutes into the second half but Paraguay captain Justo Villar saved Sergio Aguero’s weak penalty.
“There are no excuses, we played badly,” Aguero told reporters. “We’ve got to pick ourselves up… turn everything around.”
Paulo Dybala, who came on in the second half to try and bring more creativity to the team, was also unimpressed.
“It’s a bad moment. We’ve got to try to get out of this rut in the next matches,” he said. “A national team like ours has to participate in the World Cup.”
Left back Marcos Rojo, one of three men in a makeshift Argentine defense with little or no club action this season, had the ball in the Paraguay net at a free kick in the second half but the referee ruled it offside.
In the first half, Angel Di Maria hit the Paraguay post with a shot across the face of goal.
Uruguay were held to a 2-2 draw away to Colombia with Luis Suarez scoring his 19th goal in qualifying matches, equaling the record held by former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo.
The Uruguayans were pegged back in steamy, rainy Barranquilla by Colombia striker Yerry Mina’s late headed equalizer after Suarez had put them ahead in the 73rd minute.
Midfielder Cristian Rodriguez had headed a 27th-minute leveler for Uruguay to cancel out Abel Aguilar’s opening goal.
Ecuador’s Enner Valencia scored twice, including an 89th minute equalizer, when they were a man short as they came from two goals down to draw with Bolivia in La Paz. Midfielder Luis Caicedo was sent off 12 minutes from time for a second booking.
Pablo Escobar scored both goals for Bolivia.
Copa America holders Chile, who had not won in three games, produced a 2-1 victory over arch-rivals Peru in Santiago that keeps them in seventh place on 14 points, one behind Paraguay.
Arturo Vidal scored both Chile’s goals, the winner in the 85th minute after Edison Flores’s equalizer.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)