Playing at altitude in Quito is never easy as the thin air takes its toll on the visiting team as was the case for Argentina last night during a host of World Cup Qualifiers that were taking place across South America.
Both Ecuador and Argentina look like being good bets to qualify for next summer’s finals, but it was Ecuador who needed to win the most sitting on 20 points five points behind group leader Argentina who once again started the match with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on the bench preferring to start in his place Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero who gave the visitors a dream start after scoring from the penalty spot following a foul on Rodrigo Palacio by Ecuadorian goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez with only four minutes gone in the match.
Playing in front of a packed Estadio Atahualpa the Tricolor immediately went on the attack with winger Jefferson Montero looking dangerous out on the left flank outwitting Argentina’s Gino Peruzzi on numerous occasions one of which resulted in a free kick which Walter Ayovi delivered with pinpoint precision allowing for Segundo Castillo to powerfully head past keeper Sergio Romero putting the home side back on level terms.
Following the break Ecuador came out like a team on a mission forcing Romero to make a couple of excellent saves in the Argentinian goal, and had a penalty denied when the Argentinian keeper appeared to have brought down Felipe Caicedo in the area.
Messi made his appearance in the match on 61 minutes for Aguero and had an immediate impact opening the game up for both sides. Castillo had a great chance to put the home side away after he was given a free header, but only managed to send it over the bar. Argentina were getting back into the match with a couple of great counter attacks that saw Angel Di Maria produce a terrible shot while one to one with the keeper.
Messi also put a shot wide in the 82nd minute, but it was what happened later that made all the headlines in this morning’s newspapers when being stretchered off the pitch Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano kicked the medic which resulted in him being sent off. Macherano’s face was a picture of disbelief with the melee that followed needing five minutes before the match could restart. To see a video and read more about the incident click on the video link.
The draw means that Argentina remains in first place, but Colombia’s victory over Peru means the deficit at the top is cut to two points. Ecuador, meanwhile, stay in third, and could be caught by Chile should the Roja defeat Bolivia later in the evening. This round of World Cup Qualifiers means that La Albiceleste have all but qualified for Brazil even though the final mathematics have not been added up.