Substitute Martin Palermo struck two minutes into stoppage time to give Argentina a 2-1 victory over Peru in a dramatic, rain-soaked finale to their World Cup qualifier on Saturday.
The victory keeps alive Argentina’s hopes of qualifying for the 2010 finals in South Africa as they climbed into fourth place in the South American group before their last qualifier away to Uruguay on Wednesday.
The top four go through automatically with Uruguay, a point behind Argentina, perched in the fifth-place playoff berth after beating Ecuador, who are now in sixth another point back.
New cap Gonzalo Higuain put Argentina ahead two minutes into the second half from Pablo Aimar’s through ball and, as driving rain became steadily worse at the Monumental, Peru equalised in the final minute through substitute Hernan Rengifo.
But Palermo had the last word when he turned in a deflected shot from the right by fellow substitute Federico Insua in a packed area as Argentina threw everything at their opponents in search of the winner.
“I told him at halftime ‘go and resolve this’,” coach Diego Maradona told reporters.
“It was a miracle from Saint Palermo that gives us another life.”
It was the 35-year-old’s third goal in two internationals after scoring two in a friendly against Ghana on Sept. 30.
Peru would not have been unworthy of a draw, giving a second-half performance that belied their position at the bottom of the group and out of the finals.
“With less pressure I imagine Argentina will show more than what they showed today,” coach Jose del Solar said.
Diego Forlan scored a last-gasp goal for Uruguay turned the tables on Ecuador who had started the day in fourth place but their 2-1 home defeat left them sixth before Wednesday’s visit to Chile, who took South America’s third berth with a 4-2 victory in Colombia.
Chileans celebrated reaching the finals for the first time since 1998 with a team revived by the
methodical coaching of Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, a foreign national hero.
Germany, Italy en route to South Africa
PARIS: Italy scraped a draw against the Republic of Ireland to join Germany, Denmark and Serbia as the latest teams to secure places on a drama-laden penultimate batch of qualifiers.
This quartet join already-qualified England, Spain and the Netherlands, leaving two automatic berths from the continent still up for grabs heading into Wednesday’s last throw of the South Africa dice.
Russia, beaten 1-0 by 10-man Germany in Moscow, and the Republic of Ireland, are among the teams assured of places in November’s two-leg play-offs.
Mexico, US reach finals
MIAMI: Mexico cruised into the World Cup finals and the United States battled their way to a spot in South Africa in CONCACAF qualifying on Saturday, leaving Costa Rica and Honduras to scrap it out for the third automatic place. Mexico, inspired by 36-year-old Cuauhtemoc Blanco, crushed El Salvador 4-1 in front of over 100,000 fans at the Azteca stadium.
Elsewhere, forward Conor Casey struck twice in Bob Bradley team’s win as the United States won 3-2 at Hinduras.