SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's run of consecutive wins in South American World Cup qualifying ended Sunday when it was held to a 0-0 by Colombia in Barranquilla.
It was Brazil's first draw after nine wins in completed matches in the tournament — its superclasico with Argentina last month was contentiously suspended because of COVID-19 protocols after 7 minutes of play. FIFA will decide what to do with the match.
Brazil leads qualifying with 28 points from 10 matches and Colombia is in fifth place with 15. The Seleção's tally so far would be enough to qualify for all World Cups directly since 2002.
The top four earn direct entry to the World Cup in Qatar next year. The fifth-place team can still qualify via an inter-continental playoff.
Brazil had the best opportunities of the encounter and forced Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina to make three key saves. The most important was in the 84th minute in a close range finish by substitute Antony.
Neymar returned to the Seleção after a suspension, but was off pace, missing several passes and running with apparent difficulty. He left the pitch immediately after the final whistle. Brazil coach Tite said in a news conference too much is expected from his star player all of the time.
“He is an exceptional player because he makes exceptional plays, he does it exceptionally and not ordinarily,” Brazil's coach said. “He is a special player, we know it. And he was also well marked, sometimes by two players.”
Tite tested out lineup or formation changes, as he promised. His defensive midfield was Fabinho and Fred for the first time. He also used wingers Raphinha and Antony in the second half, following their impressive performances in the 3-1 win at Venezuela.
Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda said his team did well despite the absence of suspended Juan Guillermo Cuadrado. After draws against Uruguay and Brazil, Colombia can see sixth-placed Paraguay get closer in the table.
“This match gives us optimism about what is coming," Rueda said. “Brazil is a very tough team, they had won all their matches in qualifiers. So from this angle it was very positive what Colombia did today.”
Brazil's next challenge will be in Manaus against Uruguay on Thursday, when Colombia hosts Ecuador.
Lionel Messi's Argentina, in second place with 19 points, was playing against fourth place Uruguay later and Chile was taking on Paraguay.
Also on Sunday, third place Ecuador lost 2-1 at Venezuela and frustrated fans who were hoping to get closer to a World Cup spot.
Enner Valencia opened the scoring for the visitors from the spot in the 37th, but Venezuela turned its fortunes with goals by Darwin Machis late in the first half and Eduard Bello in the 64th.
Ecuador remains on 16 points and last-place Venezuela has seven.
Bolivia frustrated Peru with a 1-0 win at La Paz. Ramiro Vaca scored the only goal of the encounter in the 85th minute. Peru remained on 11 points and Bolivia improve to nine points in the standings.
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Mauricio Savarese is at https://twitter.com/msavarese