RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil recorded it fourth straight win under is new coach on Tuesday to become the new leader of South America’s World Cup qualifying group after 10 matches. Arch rival Argentina, however, was shocked 1-0 at home by Paraguay and is in a precarious fifth place. The two heavyweights will face each other in Brazil in their next games.
Despite the absence of Barcelona star Neymar, Brazil had little trouble in winning 2-0 at Venezuela. Previous group leader Uruguay slipped to second after a creditable 2-2 draw away to Colombia. Brazil is now one point ahead of Uruguay in the table.
Elsewhere, third place Ecuador managed to come from behind and stop ninth place Bolivia in the altitude of La Paz with a 2-2 draw. Copa America champions Chile took a much-needed 2-1 home victory over Peru.
It took only seven minutes for Brazil to forget the suspended Neymar’s absence, keep up its new-found momentum and prove Venezuela deserves the bottom position in the South American qualifiers. Teenage striker Gabriel Jesus, recently signed by Manchester City, scored his fourth goal in his fourth international appearance with a classy lob over goalkeeper Dani Hernandez, who had given the ball to away easily.
Winger Willian, who replaced Neymar, scored the second at 55 minutes after a cross by midfielder Renato Augusto.
It was Brazil’s least impressive performance under new coach ‘Tite’ but he is enjoying a honeymoon period as the new coach, having lifted the Selecao from sixth in the standings to top spot.
The match was interrupted at 67 minutes when the light went out in the economically troubled country. It took 22 minute to restart the game.
Argentina finds itself in fifth place, which yields only a further playoff position rather than automatic qualification for Russia 2018.
After two disappointing draws and still without the injured Lionel Messi, new coach Edgardo Bauza’s team was even worse in the defeat to a hardworking Paraguay side 1-0 in Cordoba. The winning goal was scored by the visitors at 17 minutes by Dynamo Kyiv striker Derlis Gonzalez. Argentina had a chance to equalize with a penalty early in the second half but Sergio Aguero’s attempt was blocked.
Argentina struggled in the absence of experienced defenders Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi and Ramiro Funes Mori. One of their replacements, Martin Demichelis spelt out the predicament clearly.
“We have to be honest with ourselves, we have to improve quickly,” Demichelis said. We have to make a big self-criticism. We have things to correct.”
In November Argentina will have tough matches away against Brazil and home against Colombia. Messi is expected to return for those two.
The victory in Cordoba offers some relief to Paraguay, which remains in sixth place, but now only one point behind Argentina.
In Barranquilla, coach Oscar Tabarez’ Uruguay played against Jose Pekerman’s Colombia for the fifth time. Each had won two. The first draw between them was one of the most exciting games of the South American qualifiers so far. In rainy conditions, Colombia went ahead with a header by Abel Aguilar (16). Uruguay responded with another header by Cristian Rodriguez (27). In a typical bulldozing goal of his, Barcelona star Luis Suarez put the visitors ahead in the 73rd, before Colombia defender Yerry Mina scored the final goal in the 84th.
“We are firm, we are strong and I believe that this match shows that the World Cup is much closer to us,” central defender Diego Godin said.
Suarez equaled Argentinian Hernan Crespo as the top goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifiers with 19 goals.
“This was a great point, we have to enjoy this,” Suarez said.
Bayern Munich’s Arturo Vidal gave renewed World Cup hope to Chile by scoring both goals in a 2-1 home win against Peru.
Before 35,000 tense fans in Santiago, he opened the score for the Copa America champions with a header at 10 minutes. But when Peruvian Edison Flores dribbled through Chile’s defense and leveled the score from the edge of the box at 76 minutes, those fans would have feared the worst. Vidal came to the rescue with a 15-meter shot in the 86th minute.
Chile remains in seventh place with 14 points, now two behind fifth place Argentina, who so far has the playoff spot. Peru still lags at eighth, with eight points.
The Chilean football federation still claims the three points from the 0-0 home draw with Bolivia in September. Chile’s executives claim that Bolivia fielded an ineligible player, defender Nelson Cabrera.
In the 3-0 victory over Chile on Thursday, Ecuador’s Enner Valencia was removed in an ambulance in what some claimed was an attempt to elude police who were chasing him for alleged avoidance of alimony playments. With his legal situation sorted back home, he was news for a different reason on Tuesday with a brace that delivered a draw in the altitude of La Paz.
Bolivian Pablo Escobar opened the score for the hosts at 3 and 42 minutes. Valencia leveled at 47 and 89.
Ecuador stays in third place, with 17 points, and Bolivia lags in ninth, with eight.