Montevideo - Brazil's march towards the 2018 World Cup
gathered pace on Tuesday with a Neymar-inspired win over Colombia as Uruguay
surged to the top of the South American qualification standings with a 4-0 rout
Just four days after their first ever victory over Ecuador
in Quito, Brazil dug deep to beat Colombia 2-1 in the Amazon jungle city of
Manaus courtesy of Neymar's 74th-minute winner.
The result left Brazil -- who had started the day outside
the automatic qualifying places -- in second place overall, just one point
behind leaders Uruguay.
Argentina, who squandered the opportunity to maintain their
lead after a 2-2 draw away to Venezuela, are third, trailing Brazil on goal
difference with the two heavyweight rivals level on 15 points.
Brazil's win over Colombia was the latest in a series of
physical encounters between the two teams, who have skirmished regularly since
the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals -- a match that saw Neymar exit with a
Neymar, who was sent off against Colombia in a bruising Copa
America battle in 2015, exacted his revenge with a sweetly struck low shot to
decide Tuesday's game.
Also read: Brazil win first ever gold medal in Olympic football
It completed a memorable few weeks for the Barcelona
superstar, who last month scored the winning penalty to give Brazil their first
ever Olympic football gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Neymar's Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez meanwhile was in
similarly sparkling form for Uruguay in their 4-0 thrashing of Paraguay.
Paraguay had entered the match in Montevideo optimistic of
an upset following their win over Copa America champions Chile last week.
But a magnificent individual performance from Suarez -- who
laid on two goals for Edinson Cavani before scoring one himself from the
penalty spot -- left Paraguay reflecting on a humbling defeat. Cristian
Rodriguez scored the other goal for the Uruguayans.
The victory -- and the performance of Suarez and Cavani --
prompted Uruguay's often stony-faced coach Oscar Tabarez to permit himself a
"We have world class strikers," Tabarez said.
"Sometimes they win by presence, not necessarily because they've played
well. We are satisfied because the team played well."
Venezuela came within seven minutes of pulling off the upset
of the day in their rain-lashed scrap with Argentina in Merida.
Argentina, missing injured captain Lionel Messi and a galaxy
of attacking talent including Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala,
needed an 83rd minute equaliser from Nicolas Otamendi to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Otamendi's late strike -- turning in an Angel Di Maria
corner -- completed a gutsy fightback from the Argentines, who had trailed 2-0
shortly after half-time following Venezuelan goals from Malaga's Juanpi Anor
and Torino's Josef Martinez.
Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza praised his side's courage
after fighting back from 2-0.
"We wanted to win but we found ourselves losing
2-0," Bauza said. "I take comfort from the way that the players
responded when they conceded those two goals," he added.
But while Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were left heading
the table, Chile were still struggling for answers after a 0-0 draw with
Bolivia in Santiago.
The Chileans have been the form team in South America over
the past two years, winning the 2015 Copa America and this year's Centenary
edition in the United States.
Yet their stalemate with Bolivia leaves them seventh overall
with 11 points from eight game.
Ecuador meanwhile, the early pace-setters in qualifying with
four wins in their opening four games, have slipped to fifth place after a 2-1
defeat in Lima against Peru.
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