Brazil secured their place at the 2010 World Cup with an impressive 3-1 win over arch-rivals Argentina while South America’s other candidates jockeyed for the region’s other three automatic berths.
The defeat left Diego Maradona’s side contemplating the dreaded prospect of missing out on the finals but Argentina did cling on to the fourth and final qualifying place after Colombia beat Ecuador 2-0 in another of Saturday’s five-match programme.
Chile and Paraguay (27) are both three points behind Brazil (30) and on the verge of sealing spots in South Africa with three matches remaining in the marathon 18-game qualifying round.
A Rodrigo Millar equaliser saved the Chileans, who were surprisingly held 2-2 at home by Venezuela.
Paraguay beat Bolivia at home with a Salvador Cabanas penalty. Bottom side Peru ended a run of six consecutive losses with a surprise 1-0 home win over Uruguay thanks to Hernan Rengifo’s late strike, compromising the visitors’ chances of at least making fifth place and going into a playoff.
Luis Fabiano struck twice for the five-time champions after defender Luisao opened the scoring in the 24th minute.
Midfielder Jesus Datolo replied for Argentina.
Brazil lead the South American group with 30 points.
The top four qualify automatically while the team finishing fifth goes into a playoff against the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF region. Argentina remain in fourth place, eight points behind Brazil, and also behind Chile and Paraguay. It was 16 years to the day that a 5-0 drubbing by Colombia had twice world champions Argentina needing to win a playoff to reach the 1994 finals in the US
Sections of the home crowd chanted Brazil coach Dunga's name in the closing minutes to protest against the impotent tactics of Diego Maradona's Argentina.
“Until the 24th minute, Brazil hadn't even got (to our box). We were very bad on the aerial balls and we paid dearly for that,” Maradona told a news conference. Brazil playmaker Kaka, who came out on top in his duel with Lionel Messi, told Brazilian TV: "Today is a marvellous day, giving this squad added value by guaranteeing our qualification here in Argentina.
"With all the climate that was created (around this match), the team were very intelligent on the pitch."
Brazil's first-half goals came against the run of play as they made their few chances pay while Argentina squandered the lion's share of possession.
From Brazil's kickoff, Argentina won the ball and forced a corner when Carlos Tevez went for a low right cross to the near post and goalkeeper Julio Cesar turned the ball over the goal-line.
Argentina went on to dictate play and Messi came close with a left-footed free kick but despite some penetrating moves the Brazil defence managed to prevent their finishing touch.