Peru got the win they needed to secure a World Cup play-off spot on Tuesday and Gianluca Lapadula, the man who sent them on their way, has been embraced as the country’s newest hero.
The Andean side needed to beat Paraguay to secure a place in the play-off and 32-year-old striker Lapadula’s first goal calmed his nerves before Yoshimar Yotun netted a second.
Lapadula – who also saw headers hit the woodwork every half – received a standing ovation as he left the field.
Coach Ricardo Gareca has been forced to find a replacement for talismanic striker Paolo Gurrero, who scored 39 goals for the national team. He knocked out Lapadula, a fellow striker who bounced around the Italian leagues for over a decade.
Gareca debuted as the Benevento player in November 2020 at the age of 30 and he hasn’t let him down. Since then, ‘El Bambino’ have stepped in to fill the Guerrero void, scoring seven goals in 20 games.
The Peruvians needed a victory to qualify, regardless of the results of Colombia and Chile. They finished the 10-team round robin with 24 points, one ahead of the Colombians.
This intercontinental play-off in June will be against Australia or the United Arab Emirates – the teams playing for fifth place in the Asian qualifiers.
Peru also finished fifth in South America’s 2018 World Cup qualifier and advanced to the final by beating New Zealand. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador have already secured the four direct entries from South America for Qatar.
Brazil beat Argentina’s points record
Also on Tuesday, Brazil reached a landmark with a 4-0 rout of Bolivia. With 45 points, Tite’s team broke the Argentine record of 43 in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.
The result sees Brazil with an unbeaten qualifying campaign and should lift them to the number one spot in the upcoming FIFA rankings.
Playing without Neymar and Vinicius Junior suspended, Brazil won with two goals from Richarlison and others from Lucas Paquet and Bruno Guimares.
Matches at the altitude of La Paz are often dreaded by non-Bolivian players during South American qualifiers. Brazil coach Tite came under fire before the game for calling conditions over 3,600 meters above sea level inhumane.
Still, Tite continued to experiment with his combinations, replacing seven players who started in the 4-0 win over Chile last week.
Out Danilo, Thiago Silva, Guilherme Arana, Casemiro and Fred as well as suspended Neymar and Vinicius Jr. Tite replaced them with Dani Alves, der Milito, Alex Telles, Fabinho, Bruno Guimares, Philippe Coutinho and Richarlison.
This formation had never played together, but Brazil scored their first goal after a run from Guimares ended with an assist for Paquet, who easily put the ball in the back of the net.
At the end of the first half, Brazil scored their second with Antony’s low cross, finding Richarlison unmarked to score.
Bolivia forced goalkeeper Alisson into some important saves in the second half, but Guimares’ 66th-minute goal, with an assist from Paquet, ruined any chances for the hosts to turn the tide. Richarlison scored his second from close range before full time.
Suarez overtakes Messi as top scorer in qualifying
Luis Suarez leapfrogged Lionel Messi as South America’s top scorer in World Cup qualifiers with his 29th goal, a bicycle kick that helped Uruguay to a 2-0 win over Chile.
“Special night, special match, special jersey and a goal,” Suarez wrote on social media alongside a photo of himself holding his match jersey.
“What more could you ask for unique and unforgettable moments for my country?”
The South American Football Confederation said Suarez’s 29 goals had come in 62 games – two more than Messi – and his last was usually spectacular, a four-yard kick with 11 minutes remaining.
Federico Valverde doubled Uruguay’s lead in the dying moments of the match to cement a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Diego Alonso-led side.
Alonso took over from Oscar Tabarez in December last year after four successive defeats imperiled their qualification hopes and he has since guided his side to four straight wins. Uruguay finished third in the qualifying group behind Brazil and Argentina.
In other results, Colombia to beat Venezuela 1-0, with James Rodriguez scoring the only goal from the spot in first-half stoppage time.
Ecuador dropped to fourth place after a 1-1 draw with Argentina. Julian Alvarez opened the scoring in the 24th minute, but Enner Valencia equalized in stoppage time.
Australia stumble again in loss to Saudi Arabia
The pressure on Australia Coach Graham Arnold was not relieved by the Socceroos – already out of contention for a direct ticket to Qatar – finishing the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying with a whimper in a 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.
Australia’s bid to play in a fifth consecutive World Cup now hinges on the United Arab Emirates winning in Doha in June for the right to represent Asia in the intercontinental play-off against Peru, also in the Qatari capital.
The failure to qualify directly for the final by finishing third in their group behind the Saudis and Japan weighs heavily on Arnold, whose potential successor is already the subject of much speculation in the local media.
Arnold led Australia to 11 consecutive wins at the start of the qualifiers, but his record in his last seven matches of the campaign was an unimpressive win, three defeats and three draws.
Although sacking Arnold before the play-offs could be seen as a gamble, the Socceroos are no strangers to coaching turmoil ahead of a World Cup.
Germany’s Holger Osieck was sacked after securing direct qualification for the 2014 World Cup, while replacement Ange Postecoglou quit after Australia secured a ticket to the 2018 final via the play-offs.