MONTEVIDEO: Brazil and Uruguay scored easy victories to maintain their lead at the top of South America’s 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament on Thursday 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 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.
The draw leaves Argentina in the fifth and final qualifying spot, level with both Colombia and Ecuador on 15 points.
The top four finishers in the table qualify automatically for Russia 2018 while the fifth placed team enters a playoff.
But the day’s results left clear daylight between Chile and the qualifying positions, with the back-to-back South American champions suffering a mauling against Ecuador.
Chile were torn apart as Ecuador produced a rampant display at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa.
Goals from Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, Ferencvaros’s Cristian Ramirez and Espanyol’s Felipe Caicedo secured the points for the hosts.
Chile now have only 11 points from nine games and are five points adrift of the qualifying positions.
Downcast Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi gave no excuses for his star-studded team’s abject display.
“They were superior to us in every department,” Pizzi said. “They totally overwhelmed us, and won all of the individual battles. All we can do now is be honest give self criticism and then start thinking about Peru,” Pizzi added, referring to Chile’s next opponents.
In Montevideo, Edinson Cavani maintained his prolific start to the season with two goals in La Celeste’s 3-0 win over Venezuela.
Cavani, who has been in sensational form for club and country, struck twice in the second half after Nicolas Lodeiro had headed Uruguay into the lead midway through the first half.
Paris Saint-Germain star Cavani has now scored four goals in his last two World Cup qualifying games for Uruguay, with seven in total during the campaign. The 29-year-old has also bagged 10 goals in all competitions for PSG this year.