Argentina drew 0-0 at home with Brazil in a tense and end-to-end game on Tuesday, but results elsewhere meant the point they earned was enough to secure them a place in next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Brazil, who guaranteed their spot last week, top the 10-team South American qualifying section with 35 points and Argentina have 29, six clear of third-placed Ecuador.
The top four teams qualify automatically, and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional playoff.
Even the Argentine players did not know they had qualified until well after the match in San Juan. It was only after Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia recorded wins later in the evening that the Argentines were mathematically assured of their place in Qatar.
The good news came after an entertaining and hard fought game in western Argentina.
Neither side was able to impose themselves in an even game with Fred‘s second-half shot for Brazil that clipped the top of the bar the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.
Brazil coach Tite felt Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi should have been punished for elbowing winger Raphinha in the first half.
The two tussled for the ball near the goal line and Otamendi appeared to elbow the Leeds United winger in the face. Raphinha fell to the ground but Otamendi hauled him up, clearly wanting the game to continue.
Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha looked to be receiving messages from his colleagues in the VAR cabin but took no action, a decision that infuriated the normally placid Brazilian coach.
“Cunha is an extraordinary referee,” Tite said, his voice rising. “Refereeing demands a team and those who were in the VAR, it’s impossible, and I am going to repeat this, it is impossible not to see Otamendi’s elbow on Raphinha.
“A high quality VAR official cannot work this way. It’s inconceivable. Inconceivable is not the word I want to use. I am using that word because I am polite.”