Argentina avoided a shock defeat to Venezuela as Nicolas Otamendi salvaged a point against Venezuela with a 2-2 draw in their 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Metropolitano in Merida on Tuesday.
Edgardo Bauza looked to be heading for his first loss at the Argentina helm, but Otamendi produced an instinctive volley to level the score seven minutes from time and deny Venezuela a first win of the campaign.
The Albiceleste were unable to call upon Lionel Messi, whose goal on his return from international retirement secured a 1-0 victory over Uruguay last Thursday sent them top of the table, due to a hamstring injury, and his absence almost proved extremely costly.
Argentina fell behind in the first half to an exquisite left-footed strike from Juanpi for his first senior international goal, while Josef Martinez extended the advantage for Rafael Dudamel’s side eight minutes after half-time with a composed finish.
However, Lucas Pratto gave Argentina hope when he responded by opening his international account in just his second appearance, and Otamendi’s late strike ensured the spoils were shared.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero nearly threw it away when he spilled a free-kick straight to Mikel Villanueva, but he hit the post as Venezuela remain rooted to the foot of the table without a win while Bauza’s side slip to second.
Venezuela started positively and looked to get in behind on the wings, but Ever Banega provided a reminder of Argentina’s threat when he fired narrowly wide from 25 yards in the 15th minute.
Martinez felt he should have been awarded a penalty midway through the half, but the referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge from Otamendi and instead gave Argentina a free-kick for a handball by Martinez.
However, Venezuela’s persistence paid off 10 minutes before half-time. Juanpi showed great feet on the right-hand side of the box to wriggle away from Javier Mascherano and Marcos Rojo before bending a sublime left-footed shot into the far corner.
It could have been worse for Argentina had Pablo Zabaleta not produced an excellent last-ditch tackle to stop Martinez slotting Alexander Gonzales’ cross home in the 39th minute, but Dudamel’s side did extend their advantage eight minutes after the restart.
Salomon Rondon showed great strength to outmuscle Otamendi before cutting back to Martinez, who committed Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero before slotting home.
Argentina responded positively, halving the deficit five minutes later when Pratto made the most of ricochets off Jose Velasquez and Villanueva to stab home.
Di Maria came close to levelling but had his strike from an acute angle batted away by Hernandez in the 67th minute, but the Paris Saint-Germain attacking midfielder played a role in the equaliser.
His corner found Otamendi inside the six-yard box, and the centre-back poked home a first-time finish to spare Argentina’s blushes.
Villanueva struck the upright after a moment of madness from Romero near the death, but Venezuela will remain pleased with an unlikely point.