Argentina vs. Paraguay: Score and Reaction for World Cup 2018 Qualifying

Joe PantornoFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2016

Paraguay's Derlis Gonzalez (L) vies for the ball with Argentina's Marcos Rojo (R) and Argentina's Javier Mascherano (C) during their Russia 2018 World Cup football qualifier match in Cordoba, Argentina, on October 11, 2016. / AFP / EITAN ABRAMOVICH        (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

An 18th-minute goal from Derlis Gonzalez was all that Paraguay needed to upset Argentina 1-0 in CONMEBOL World Cup 2018 qualifying at the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes in Cordoba, Argentina. 

As one of the biggest soccer powers in South America, Argentina hasn't had the best start in the South American qualifying campaign. Through nine rounds, it sat in fifth place entering Tuesday night, which was good for the final playoff berth. 

But at just two points behind second-place Brazil and three adrift of first-place Uruguay, a maximum three points would have ensured that Argentina at least kept pace with the leaders. 

It wouldn't be easy without talisman Lionel Messi, who was nursing an injury suffered while playing for Barcelona in La Liga play against Atletico Madrid in September.

Paraguay, on the other hand, entered Tuesday night on the cusp of falling out of contention. After two straight losses to Uruguay and Colombia, Paraguay's 12 points had it in sixth place and four points behind Argentina. 

It had a golden opportunity to gain the lead in the sixth minute when a ball played into the box by Oscar Romero fell to the head of an unmarked Gustavo Gomez. But his diving header inexplicably sailed wide, per beIn Sports USA:

With no Messi, Angel Di Maria looked the brightest to start. In the 10th minute, he unleashed a left-footed shot from outside the box that was turned away by Justo Villar as Argentina looked to press Paraguay. 

But the visitors got in front eight minutes later following a counterattack. A 50-50 ball was won by Angel Romero in midfield, and he quickly slotted a ball to Gonzalez, who had just Marcos Rojo to contend with as he made his way into the right of Argentina's box. 

Instead of trying to fool Rojo, Gonzalez drove toward the net and sent a low shot toward the near post that beat Sergio Romero and settled in the back of the net to give Paraguay the lead, per beIn Sports USA:

Di Maria almost found an equalizer in the 24th minute, but his shot bounced off the right post, via beIn Sports USA:

Argentina's frustration continued into the second half when it was awarded a penalty due to Paraguay's Paulo Da Silva's handball in the box. 

Up stepped star striker Sergio Aguero, who overcame injury to play on Tuesday night, but he saw his attempt saved by Villar. 

In the 54th minute, Argentina had a goal waved away after it appeared Aguero was offside on a free kick. He flicked the ball just in front of goal to Mateo Musacchio, who deflected it in on the illegal play, per beIn Sports:

That was as close to a goal as it would get as Paraguay managed to hold on despite seeing just 30 percent of possession while being outshot 18-9. 

Now, Paraguay is just one point behind Argentina for the final playoff spot. It will next play Peru in World Cup qualifying on Nov. 10. 

The Argentinians will be impatiently waiting for the return of Messi, as La Albiceleste have put themselves in a dire situation. If the run of poor form continues, their chances at qualifying for the World Cup could be in serious trouble.