Montevideo (AFP) – Brazil and Uruguay scored easy victories to maintain their lead at the top of South America’s 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament as Chile lost ground after crashing to defeat in Ecuador.
A virtuoso performance from Barcelona superstar Neymar lay at the heart of Brazil’s 5-0 mauling of Bolivia in Natal, with the striker launching the rout with his 49th international goal.
Neymar set up two more as Brazil produced their most stylish performance of recent memory to rattle in further goals from Gabriel Jesus, Filipe Luis and Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
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 is 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 looking head wound suffered by Neymar in the second half following a clash with Yasmani Duk. The collision left Neymar 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 Copa America champions Chile in Quito.
World Cup quarter-finalists Colombia are in fourth spot, also on 16 points, after they snatched a dramatic 1-0 win over Paraguay thanks to a 90th minute strike from Edwin Cardona in Asuncion.
– Argentina held –
Argentina, held 2-2 by Venezuela in their last game in September, dropped another two points in their trip to Lima to face Peru.
The Argentinians, missing injured captain Lionel Messi, looked to be heading for victory after Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori gave the visitors a deserved lead after 15 minutes.
However Peru fought back and levelled through all-time leading goalscorer Paolo Guerrero on 58 minutes.
Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain restored Argentina’s lead with a 77th minute strike but Peru hit back once more, winning a penalty when Guerrero was bundled over in the box.
Christian Cueva stepped up to rifle home the spot-kick past Sergio Romero to give Peru a vital point with a 2-2 draw.