Diego Maradona's Argentina booked their place at next summer's World Cup finals
as substitute Mario Bolatti hit a late winner to end Uruguay's hopes of
snatching automatic qualification for South Africa.
Huracan midfielder Bolatti, winning just his third cap, fired home with six
minutes remaining after the home defence failed to deal with Juan Sebastian
Veron's drilled effort from a free-kick.
The hosts ended the night with ten men after Martin Caceres picked up a second
yellow card in the build up to Argentina's winner.
Maradona has come in for fierce criticism for his disjointed handling of
Argentina's qualification campaign, which as seen him field over 70 players, but
victory in Montevideo should silence his critics - until next summer at
Uruguay, meanwhile, now need to prevail in a play-off against Honduras or Costa
Rica if they are to join Argentina in the finals.
Uruguay were quickly out of the blocks and looked to harry the opposition in
the early exchanges. Argentina appeared nervy and their backline was soon exposed when Jorge
Rodriguez broke through in the fourth minute but was beaten to the ball by the
advancing Sergio Romero.
The visiting keeper crashed his attempted clearance against the legs of
Rodriguez, however, and was fortunate that the ball span harmlessly out of play
rather than into the unguarded net.
Gabriel Heinze underlined the tension in the Argentinean ranks when he picked
up a yellow card for a rash challenge on Maxi Pereira after nine minutes. The hosts threatened from the resulting free-kick but Andres Scotti saw his
header sail wide of the target.
Uruguay continued to make all the running as the half wore on and after 23
minutes Alvaro Pereira fizzed a well-struck shot wide of the target from the
left edge of the area that had Romero scrambling.
Argentina had a decent penalty shout turned down after 28 minutes when Heinze
appeared to be wrestled to the ground by Diego Perez as he attempted to reach
Veron's free-kick, but referee Carlos Amarilla waved away the appeals.
The hosts fittingly closed out a half they had largely bossed with another
effort on Romero's goal, this time Diego Forlan sending Argentinean hearts
fluttering with a run and shot that flew just wide of the right-hand post.
Atletico Madrid striker Forlan unleashed a shot from distance after 50 minutes
as the hosts continued to press after the break, but Argentina nevertheless
appeared more in control at the back following the interval.
Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi had been largely anonymous in the opening 45
but gave a display of his talents after 61 minutes when he ran at the heart of
the Uruguayan defence before playing in Gonzalo Higuain but the Real Madrid man
was beaten to the ball by the alert Fernando Muslera.
Argentina's defence had a let-off after 74 minutes when they left Diego Lugano
unmarked in the area from Forlan's inswinging free-kick but the defender fluffed
his lines as his attempted header hit his back and went out of play.
Uruguay's task was made all the harder when they were reduced to ten men after
83 minutes when Caceres picked up his second booking of the night for using his
arm to pull down Jonas Gutierrez.
And the game was finally up for Uruguay when they conceded from the resulting
free-kick. Messi started the move, shifting the ball left for Veron to take a shot from
long range which ricocheted in the area before falling to Bolatti, who brought
the ball under control before slotting home to book Argentina's safe passage to