Paraguay secured their place at next summer’s World Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Diego Maradona’s hapless Argentina tonight.
A first-half goal by Nelson Haedo Valdez helped Gerardo Martino’s side join hosts South Africa and the already-qualified England, Ghana, Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Holland, Spain and Brazil.
Argentina, meanwhile, suffered their fourth defeat in the last five qualifying games and went down to the play-off positions in the standings.
It now looks increasingly likely that the upcoming World Cup will be without, arguably, the world's two best players, Argentina's Lionel Messi, and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Paraguay showed team play since the very beginning, with attacking duo Salvador Cabanas and Haedo teaming up perfectly.
Haedo repeatedly used the left side of the field to approach the Albicelestes’ box and had already hit the woodwork twice before opening the scoring at the Estadio Defensores del Chaco.
In the seventh minute, Haedo hit the post after an Aureliano Torres cross and the Borussia Dortmund striker then assisted Jonathan Santana, whose attempt hit the bar.
Shortly before the half-hour mark Cabanas set up Haedo expertly and the striker came from the left to beat Argentina’s debutant keeper Sergio Romero with a composed finish.
Eight minutes into the second half Maradona’s side lost veteran midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron when he collected a harsh second yellow card.
Maradona threw on tall duo Martin Palermo and defender Rolando Schiavi as his side became increasingly desperate but the equaliser never came, leaving the coach under serious pressure.
Paraguay become the 11th side to qualify for the finals while Argentina slip to fifth in the South American standings with Peru at home and Uruguay away their remaining games.
Maradona praised his conquerors but remained defiant.
“Paraguay played well, particularly Cabanas and Haedo Valdes,” he said. “They held the ball and midfielders attacked us from the sides. We should have marked them better.
“It is down to poor form and failures as a team.
“We must re-start and do the puzzle again. I didn’t think we were going to be like we are. I wanted to be higher (in the table).
“This is the reality we must live and I will face it like always in my life. We still have a chance and we are holding it.”
He added: “I don’t fear critics. I don’t fear anybody.
“I do my job, I coach my team and I will keep going ahead. I’ve been battling critics since I was 15. Now I am 48 and I will keep fighting journalists.”
Martino has targeted victory in the group after seeing his side secure qualification.
“We have not played this way for a long time. To play Argentina is an extra motivation, it is like playing Boca or River when you are in Argentina,” Martino told TyC Sports.
“Now, we want to win the World Cup qualifiers. It is our second goal. In the national team, you work for two possibilities – you can work for having a job or for making history. I want to work for the second option.
“Anyway, I am sure Argentina will progress to the World Cup.”
Earlier Uruguay were 3-1 winners at home to Colombia.
Ajax striker Luis Suarez put his side 1-0 up just six minutes into the match before Jackson Martinez equalised early in the second half after Uruguay defender Carlos Valdez was sent off after 30 minutes.
However, Teofilo Gutierrez was sent off for Colombia a minute into the second half and Uruguay got a deserved victory with substitutes Andres Scotti (77) and Sebastian Eguren (88) sealing the triumph.