A perfectly placed strike from Javier Mascherano was enough to give Argentina a 1-0 win over Paraguay in Barquisimeto tonight and secure the Albiceleste a quarter final tie against Peru.
The Liverpool midfielder struck a perfectly placed shot past Aldo Bobadilla just 10 minutes after coming on a 68th minute substitute. The goal was one of the few high points in what was an largely lacklustre affair.
The win means Argentina ends the group stages the only one of the 12 sides to take maximum points. It also ensures they get to stay in Barquisimeto for Sunday’s Peru tie. Paraguay, meanwhile, must travel to Maturin to take on Mexico the same day.
Argentina made eight changes from the team that beat the United States and Colombia but it was Paraguay, who needed just a draw to top the group on goal difference, who made the early running. Edgar Gonzalez should have hit the target after good work from Enrique Vera and Salvador Cabanas hit the post from a tight angle after delaying his shot.
As the game went on, however, Argentina took control. But they struggled to break down a packed Paraguayan defence and most of their attempts on goal were from outside the area. Both Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago both flashed shots just past in the moments before half time.
Argentina looked the hungrier for the win when the teams emerged for the second period and a 20-yard drive from Rodrigo Palacio hit the bar in the 54th minute. But the defining moment of the half came when Argentina coach Alfio Basile sent on Mascherano and Lionel Messi.
Messi was lively and dangerous every time he touched the ball but it was Mascherano who broke the deadlock when the ball fell to him on the edge of the area. Paraguay sent on Roque Santa Cruz seconds later but he could not make an impression and Argentina took the points.