Argentina scrapped through to the World Cup finals on Wednesday after substitute Mario Bolatti stabbed home a late goal for a 1-0 win over Uruguay.
The win ended an embarrassing qualifying campaign by Diego Maradona's side that would have seen Argentina miss their first World Cup since 1970 had it lost at the packed Centenario stadium in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Moments after Uruguay defender Martin Caceres was ejected for his second yellow card, Bolatti, who had just come on for five minutes, scored amid a goalmouth scramble.
The 84th minute goal gave Argentina the fourth and final automatic berth from South America for the finals in South Africa next year, joining Brazil, Paraguay and Chile.
Uruguay finished fifth and now face a two-legged playoff against the fourth-placed team from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, either Costa Rica or Honduras.
Caceres' foul turned out to be pivotal.
|The single goal ended a poor campaign by Diego Maradona, right [AFP]
He tripped up Juan Sebastian Veron during a clean break just outside the box, and before he even received the yellow and red cards, Caceres covered his head with his jersey in shame and frustration as he was sent off.
From the free kick, Lionel Messi and Veron smoothly set up Bolatti to shoot low past Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Maradona celebrated the goal wildly on the touchline and wept and hugged members of his coaching team at the final whistle minutes later.
Having replaced Alfio Basile as coach midway through the qualification campaign, Maradona's credentials for the job had
been widely questioned after his side lost to Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and at home to Brazil.
"I want to dedicate this to all the Argentines," he told Argentine television. "I thank the squad."