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Super Mario takes Argentina to Level II

sports Updated: Oct 15, 2009 23:24 IST

Diego Maradona's Argentina survived a turbulent World Cup qualifying campaign to finally clinch their place in South Africa next year with a 1-0 win over neighbours Uruguay on Wednesday.

Substitute Mario Bolatti stabbed home the winner in the 85th minute to seal the fourth automatic spot for Argentina, who had been in danger of missing out on the finals after a rollercoaster year under Maradona's leadership.

Maradona, who has used more than 70 players in his time in charge, wept and hugged his coaching staff and insulted the media after Argentina joined Brazil, Chile and Paraguay as South America's representatives in South Africa next year.

Uruguay, who finished fifth in the 10-team South American group, will have another bite at the cherry via a playoff with Costa Rica over two legs.

It is the third consecutive World Cup qualifying campaign where Uruguay's fate will be decided by a playoff — the twice world champions beat Australia to qualify for the 2002 tournament and lost to the same opponents four years later.

Ecuador were the other team who went into Wednesday's matches with a realistic chance of qualifying but their hopes were killed off with a 1-0 defeat in Chile. Humberto Suazo, the competition's leading scorer, scored the winner with his 10th goal of the campaign to leave Ecuador sixth with 23 points, one behind Uruguay.

Brazil finished top of the group with 34 points but completed their campaign with a lacklustre goalless draw at home to Venezuela in Campo Grande — the first time they have failed to beat their northern neighbours in 19 competitive internationals.

Paraguay (33 points) missed a chance to pip Brazil when they lost 2-0 at home to Colombia, Gustavo Ramos and Hugo Rodallega scoring in the last half hour.

They dropped to third behind Chile on goal difference.

Argentina finished fourth with 28, but a defeat against Uruguay, coupled with an Ecuador win on Wednesday, would have seen Argentina miss out on their first finals since 1970. “I have a memory, for those who didn't believe in this team and those who treated me like dirt,” Maradona said in a post-match news conference peppered with insults at the media.