Substitute Edwin Cardona’s last-gasp winner earned Colombia a dramatic 1-0 victory over Paraguay in the CONMEBOL section of 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Cardona replaced Luis Muriel in the 77th minute and produced a deft finish in second-half stoppage time to bring Paraguay’s unbeaten run at home in this campaign to an end.
Colombia, who were without the talismanic James Rodriguez due to a calf injury, had dominated the opening period but Muriel, and Carlos Bacca, were guilty of spurning a glorious chance to convert a cross from Juan Cuadrado in the 11th minute.
Cuadrado felt aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty before half-time following a rash challenge from Gustavo Gomez, but referee Julio Bascunan was unmoved.
It was Paraguay’s turn to dominate in the second half, but Farid Diaz denied Dario Lezcano the opener with a goal-line block.
It proved to be a pivotal moment as Cardona produced a late moment of magic for Colombia to open up a four-point gap over sixth-placed Paraguay
The visitors had a glorious chance to take the lead early on when a cross from Cuadrado, back in the starting line-up with James absent, found Bacca inside the six-yard box.
The AC Milan striker was unable to make a clean connection and the ball fell kindly for Muriel at the back post, but he skied it under pressure from Victor Ayala.
It was a rare moment of excitement in a low-key first half that saw Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina mop up a half-chance for Lezcano off an Ayala free-kick midway through the opening period.
Cuadrado felt he should have been awarded a penalty when he appeared to be tripped in the box by Gomez in the 30th minute, but the referee allowed play to continue.
Colombia were the superior side in the first half and in a bid to turn the tide Paraguay coach Francisco Arce replaced Cristian Riveros with Derlis Gonzalez at half-time.
The hosts came agonisingly close to an opener 10 minutes after the restart. Gomez’s header from a corner was saved by Ospina but pressure from Paulo Da Silva saw him spill the ball straight to Lezcano, whose follow-up shot was blocked on the line by Diaz.
Paraguay remained in the ascendancy and Oscar Romero almost found the back of the net from an acute angle on the left just after the hour-mark, but Ospina palmed it behind.
Jose Pekerman sent Cardona and debutant Orlando Berrio on in the closing stages and the former proved decisive, dinking a shot over the onrushing Paraguay keeper Diego Barreto after a one-two with Bacca in the 91st minute.
Colombia can further boost their hopes of automatic qualification with a positive result at home to leaders Uruguay on Tuesday, while things do not get any easier for Paraguay as they travel to Argentina next.