A round-up of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers played on Thursday
Lionel Messi converted a penalty as Argentina laboured to a 1-0 win over Chile in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday that put them back in the automatic qualifying spots for next year's finals in Russia.
Messi beat Claudio Bravo from the spot in the 16th minute after Angel Di Maria had been pushed from behind in the first quarter of a poor, tense match on a terrible River Plate pitch.
Argentina, a shadow of the team that finished World Cup runners-up in 2014, moved into third place in the 10-nation South American group on 22 points, eight behind leaders Brazil and one in arrears to second-placed Uruguay.
Brazil earlier beat Uruguay 4-1.
Colombia, who beat Bolivia 1-0 at home, are now in the fourth qualifying place with 21 points, one ahead of Ecuador, who lost 2-1 away to Paraguay and sit in the playoff berth.
"We suffered because we lost the ball but at least we won," relieved Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza told reporters.
Chile, missing suspended midfielder Arturo Vidal but worthy of at least a draw, gave Argentina and early scare when they had the ball in net after a free kick from the left only for Jose Fuenzalida to be ruled offside.
Argentina took the lead when Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci ruled that Fuenzalida had pushed Di Maria as he chased a fine through ball from Javier Mascherano.
Messi sent Bravo the wrong way and buried the ball in the back of the net to a roar from a wildly passionate 60,000 crowd at El Monumental.
Stringing moves together was difficult for both teams on a patchy pitch and Argentina were relieved when the final whistle went after withstanding intense pressure from the Copa America holders, who are now sixth in the group on goal difference.
Argentina central defender Nicolas Otamendi should have scored from a Messi free kick before halftime but blasted a chance over the bar.
Messi was mostly kept quiet by the Chile defence but he had another chance to score from Marcos Rojo's cross from the left only to see his effort go over the bar.
Midway through the second half, Chile's Alexis Sanchez hit the bar with a free kick and goalkeeper Sergio Romero had to get down sharply to prevent a subsequent cross from reaching substitute Nicolas Castillo.
On a disappointing night in front of goal for Chile, Sanchez lobbed a free kick from a similar position high over the bar and Castillo slipped through the defence to meet a cross but steered his shot wide of the near post.
Paulinho hat-trick keeps Brazil on road to Russia
Brazil recovered from conceding an early goal to beat Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo on Thursday, with Paulinho grabbing a hat-trick in a win that all but cemented their place at next year's World Cup finals.
The victory gave Tite his eighth win in eight games as coach and lifted leaders Brazil to 30 points in the South American qualifying group, a tally that has been more than enough to guarantee qualification in previous campaigns.
The five-time World Cup winners led second-placed Uruguay by four points before the game but it was the weakened home side that took the lead after eight minutes thanks to a penalty from Edinson Cavani.
Marcelo tried to chest down the ball to his keeper but Cavani nipped in to intercept and was pulled down by Alisson. The Paris St. Germain striker got up to rifle the ball home low to Alisson's right.
It was the first time that Brazil had gone behind since Tite took over as coach last summer and it only took them 10 minutes to show they would not be bowed.
Neymar laid the ball off to Paulinho in midfield and the former Tottenham midfielder hammered home a spectacular right-foot shot from 30 yards out.
When Brazil took the lead six minutes into the second half it was again Paulinho who did the damage.
Goalkeeper Martin Silva could only parry Roberto Firmino's shot from the edge of the box and Paulinho was on hand to knock the rebound home from six yards.
Neymar had a quiet game but he got Brazil's third with 16 minutes to go when he seized on a long ball to outrun Sebastian Coates and deftly lob the stranded Silva.
Paulinho got his third and Brazil's fourth in injury time when he cheekily chested home a cross from Dani Alves.
In the evening's earlier match, Colombia beat Bolivia 1-0 in Barranquilla.
James Rodriguez got the winner from the penalty spot after 83 minutes to lift Colombia in to third place in the qualifying group with 21 points.
Paraguay also took three points to move into seventh place in the 10-team group with a narrow 2-1 win over Ecuador.
The top four teams qualify automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side go into a play off with a team from Oceania.
Japan and Iran remain on track to book World Cup berths
Japan stayed on course to book their spot at next year's World Cup finals as Vahid Halilhodzic's side handed the United Arab Emirates a 2-0 defeat on Thursday, while Iran recorded a 1-0 win over Qatar.
Yuya Kubo and Yasuyuki Konno scored a goal in each half for the Japanese as the four-times Asian champions remained locked on 13 points with Saudi Arabia in Group B of Asia's qualifying tournament after Bert van Marwijk's team recorded a 3-0 win over Thailand in Bangkok.
The two countries moved three points clear at the top of the standings, with Australia dropping into third as a result of their 1-1 draw with Iraq in Tehran. The third placed team in each of Asia's two qualifying groups goes into a playoff.
Mathew Leckie gave the Socceroos the lead after 39 minutes only for Ahmed Yasin to score from close range with 14 minutes remaining to pick up a point for the struggling Iraqis.
Saudi Arabia secured a comfortable win in Bangkok as the Gulf nation continued their march towards their first appearance at the World Cup since 2006, with striker Mohammad Al Sahlawi on target to register his 15th goal in all phases of qualifying so far.
Iran, meanwhile, strengthened their grip on top spot in Group A with a 1-0 win over Qatar that moves Carlos Queiroz's team four points clear of second placed South Korea and a further point ahead of Uzbekistan in third.
Mehdi Taremi scored the only goal of the game for the Iranians as Qatar's chances of qualifying for the World Cup before hosting of 2022 tournament appears to be fading fast as they dropped to the bottom of the standings.
Syria had an injury time penalty from Omar Khrbin to thank for keeping their hopes of a first-ever World Cup finals appearance alive as they secured a surprise 1-0 win over Uzbekistan.
Despite being forced to play their home games in neutral Malaysia due to security issues in Syria, the country's national team is just two points behind South Korea, who sit in the second of Group A's two automatic qualifying spots for Russia 2018.
The Koreans slipped up against China when Marcello Lippi's team scored their first win of the current phase of the campaign by virtue of Yu Dabao's goal, with the victory taking the Chinese onto five points to maintain their slim chances of qualifying for next year's finals.