Colombia seal World Cup berth with fightback
Montevideo: Colombia pulled off an amazing fightback to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1998 on Friday, rallying from 3-0 down to snatch a 3-3 draw against 10-man Chile in a six-goal thriller.
Monaco striker Radamel Falcao was the hero for the home side, keeping his cool to convert two late penalties as Colombia grabbed the point they needed to be certain of qualifying for next year`s finals in Brazil.
Brazil qualify automatically for the tournament as hosts, while Argentina had already confirmed their qualification last month.
Falcao`s 84th-minute leveller capped an extraordinary turnaround for Jose Pekerman`s Colombia, who had looked dead and buried inside the opening half hour after Chile raced to a 3-0 lead.
However the sending off of Chile`s Carlos Carmona for two bookable offences midway through the second half was to be the catalyst for a remarkable comeback.
Teofilo Gutierrez pulled a goal back on 69 minutes to make it 3-1 before Falcao`s late show gave Colombia a share of the points.
Chile had earlier looked certain to be heading for a win which would have seen them guarantee their ninth World Cup finals appearance after a flying start at a ground where Colombia had won their five previous matches.
Juventus star Arturo Vidal fired Chile into the lead on 19 minutes, sending Colombia keeper David Ospina the wrong way with a perfectly placed spot-kick to silence the home crowd.
Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez then doubled the Chileans` lead three minutes later before adding a close-range second to make it 3-0 on 29 minutes.
Despite the disappointment of failing to wrap up qualification, Chile remain firmly on course for Brazil after results elsewhere worked in their favour.
Ecuador`s 1-0 win over Uruguay in Quito means that Chile need only a point from their final game, against Ecuador in Santiago next Tuesday, to qualify.
Ecuador, too, will guarantee their place with a draw against the Chileans, making it highly likely that Uruguay will now have to settle for fifth and a play-off against Asian minnows Jordan to reach the World Cup.
Ecuador stayed on course for their first appearance at the World Cup since the 2006 finals in Germany with a hard-fought win over the Uruguayans.
The game`s decisive goal came in the 30th minute, when Jefferson Montero tapped in from close-range after a surging run and low cross from the right flank by Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia.
Ecuador`s margin of victory should have been more comfortable but for a dreadful refereeing decision which denied them a clear a second goal through substitute Joao Rojas on 74 minutes.
Rojas rounded Fernando Muslera and tucked away a cool finish after following up a long-range effort only to be ruled offside. Replays subsequently showed two Uruguayan defenders were playing Rojas onside however by several yards.
Uruguay`s defeat means that the 2010 World Cup semi-finalists must beat already qualified Argentina in Montevideo to have any chance of pipping Ecuador or Chile for an automatic qualifying place.
But even a win against Argentina will be academic if Chile and Ecuador combine for a mutually beneficial draw which will guarantee their qualification.
Argentina meanwhile warmed up for their showdown with rivals Uruguay with another comfortable victory.
Despite the absence through injury of captain Lionel Messi, Argentina notched a 3-1 win over Peru in Buenos Aires.
Peru took the lead through Claudio Pizarro but Argentina hit back with a brace from Ezequiel Lavezzi and a Rodrigo Palacio effort.
In the other South American qualifying game on Friday, Venezuela wrapped up their campaign with a 1-1 draw against eliminated Paraguay. Luis Seijas equalized for Venezuela after Edgar Benitez had given Paraguay a first-half lead.