Argentina lives to fight another day

BUENOS AIRES - Diego Maradona's Argentina side struggled past doormat Peru 2-1 to set up a Wednesday showdown at Uruguay for a World Cup 2010 berth while Chile booked a place in South Africa by beating Colombia 4-2.

BUENOS AIRES - Diego Maradona's Argentina side struggled past doormat Peru 2-1 to set up a Wednesday showdown at Uruguay for a World Cup 2010 berth while Chile booked a place in South Africa by beating Colombia 4-2.

The penultimate night of South American qualifying matches for next year's global football showdown saw Argentina avoid a shocking upset in stoppage time while Chile made an impressive qualifying run pay off on two second-half goals.

Martin Palmero, recalled to the national side by Maradona after a decade's absence and inserted at the start of the second half, tapped in a goal in the second minute of stoppage time after Peru had equalised in the 90th minute.

"The victory gives us new life," Maradona said. "It was a very dramatic finish. Now we go to Uruguay to play for a place in the World Cup." After being booed off the field following a goalless first half and looking undone, Argentina has a one-point edge over Uruguay heading into their showdown for the last automatic World Cup spot from South America.

Gonzalo Higuain took a pass from Pablo Aimar and scored from an angle in the 48th minute to give Argentina a 1-0 lead.

But Peru, a side with two wins in 17 final-round qualifying matches, stunned the hosts in the 90th minute when Hernan Rengifo headed home an equaliser in a driving wind and rain.

Much-criticised Maradona, the retired star player whose rocky tenure as coach would be considered an epic failure if Argentina misses the World Cup, found salvation thanks to Palmero.

Argentina improved to 7-6 with four drawn in qualifying for 25 points entering a showdown match next Wednesday at Uruguay, which won 2-1 at Ecuador to remain on Argentina's heels at 6-5 with six drawn and 24 points.

Whichever side wins will book the last automatic spot in the World Cup finals, joining Brazil, Paraguay and Chile.

The loser would need help to hold off Ecuador for fifth place, which would book a berth against North America's fourth-place finisher to decide a berth in South Africa.

Should Argentina and Uruguay draw, Argentina would have the edge for the last automatic spot while Ecuador would need to rout Chile to overcome Argentina's goal-difference.

Paraguay edged Venezuela 2-1 to eliminate them from any chance at an automatic spot.

France finally rediscovered its attacking gusto, but it was a bit late for the former world champions who will have to win a playoff in November to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.

Raymond Domenech's team crushed the Faeroe Islands 5-0 on Saturday at Guingamp to clinch second place behind group leader Serbia, who beat Romania 5-0 to secure an automatic qualification spot for the World Cup. -

l South American minnows Chile popped the Champagne corks on Saturday as national team coach Marcelo Bielsa successfully guided his side through qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals.

Chile's 4-2 defeat of Colombia qualifies third in South America, after Brazil and Paraguay for South Africa next summer. - Sapa-AFP

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