Uruguay and Brazil cruise to stay firm in 1st and 2nd

MONTEVIDEO • Brazil and Uruguay scored easy victories to maintain their lead at the top of South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying table on Thursday.

But Chile lost ground after crashing to defeat in Ecuador while Argentina were held to a second successive 2-2 away draw without injured talisman Lionel Messi.

A virtuoso performance from Barcelona forward Neymar was at the heart of Brazil's 5-0 mauling of Bolivia in Natal, with the 24-year-old launching the rout with his 49th international goal.

He set up two more as Brazil produced their most stylish performance in recent months - with Gabriel Jesus, Filipe Luis and Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino hammering in more goals.

Brazil coach Tite, who has now won all three games since taking over from sacked predecessor Dunga, said he had not expected his team to win so impressively.

"I did not expect this," Tite said.

"The team are working very hard for each other. We are trying to play the players in the positions that they play for their clubs. I believe that is helping."

The only sour note was a nasty head wound suffered by Neymar in the second half following a clash with Yasmani Duk.

The collision left the Brazilian with blood pouring from his head, prompting his substitution on 67 minutes.

The win left Brazil sitting comfortably in second place in the 10-team round-robin tournament, one point behind leaders Uruguay, who swatted aside winless Venezuela 3-0 in Montevideo.

Uruguay have 19 points from nine games, with Brazil on 18 points.

Ecuador stand in third place with 16 points following their 3-0 drubbing of Chile in Quito.

The match saw Ecuador striker Enner Valencia fake an injury to escape a warrant issued for his arrest after he was accused of failing to pay £13,350 (S$22,670) in child maintenance.

Valencia fell on the pitch in the 82nd minute complaining of high-altitude sickness and required a medical buggy to leave the pitch.

Police officers were seen chasing the buggy as it left the stadium, but they were unable to arrest him.

World Cup quarter-finalists Colombia are in fourth spot, after they snatched a dramatic 1-0 win over Paraguay thanks to a 90th-minute strike from Edwin Cardona.

Argentina, held 2-2 by Venezuela in their last game in September, dropped another two points against Peru in Lima.

Defender Ramiro Funes Mori put Argentina ahead after 15 minutes but was responsible for Peru's late penalty equaliser that was converted by Christian Cueva.

In between, Peru's veteran striker Paolo Guerrero equalised early in the second half and Gonzalo Higuain restored Argentina's lead in the 77th minute.

The Argentinians are in the fifth and final qualifying spot. The top four finishers in the table qualify automatically for Russia while the fifth-placed team enter a play-off.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Uruguay and Brazil cruise to stay firm in 1st and 2nd'. Print Edition | Subscribe