Brazil kick-started their South American World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-1 victory over Venezuela as Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay posted their second wins and Argentina gained their first point.
Willian scored twice — in the 37th second and again the 42nd minute as Brazil rebounded from a humbling loss to Chile last Thursday as qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia got underway.
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“It was a great game, we could have scored even more goals,” said the Chelsea star, who opened the scoring with a hard shot that Venezuelan goalkeeper Alain Baroja couldn’t control.
He doubled the score with another hard shot past Baroja, set up by a scintillating solo run by Filipe Luis.
Venezuela responded through Christian Santos in the 64th, but 35-year-old striker Ricardo Oliveira sealed the win for Brazil in the 73rd.
While Brazil were celebrating their first three points of the young campaign, Copa America champions Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay all notched their second victories in as many matches to stand tied on six points apiece.
Chile defeated 10-man Peru 4-3 in Lima, Ecuador followed up their shock defeat of Argentina last week with a 2-0 victory over Bolivia in Quito and Uruguay downed Colombia 3-0 in Montevideo.
Argentina, still struggling to shake off the disappointment of losing the Copa America final in July — their second defeat in a major final in 12 months — were held to a scoreless draw by Paraguay in Asuncion.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino praised the fortitude of his team — again without injured captain Lionel Messi as well as injured forward Sergio Aguero.
However, he was frustrated they couldn’t get the victory over a team they thrashed 6-1 in the Copa America semi-finals.
“I am not satisfied with the point,” he said. “I am happy with the effort that the players put in. I am unhappy because we needed to win the match.”
Argentina face Brazil next, when qualifying resumes in November.
It’s not clear if Messi will be back from a serious knee injury by then, while Brazil will be able to welcome back the suspended Neymar.
In Quito, Ecuador showed no sign of a letdown in the wake of their win over Argentina last week.
Amid torrential rain and puddles of standing water on the pitch, Ecuador were clearly stronger.
Conditions improved in the second half, and Ecuador broke through in the 81st through Miller Bolanos, with Felipe Caicedo adding a penalty in injury time.
The difficulty of the conditions and the solid efforts of Boliva goalkeeper Daniel Vaca kept Ecuador at bay for some time.
Substitute Juan Cazares hit the post in the 79th minute, and two minutes later Cazares’s pass was exploited by Bolanos, who fired home an angled shot from the right.
Five minutes into injury time, Caicedo sealed the win with a penalty straight up the middle after he was taken down by a diving Vaca.
In Montevideo, captain Diego Godin led the way for Uruguay.
Godin opened the scoring in the 34th with a header past Colombian keeper David Ospina in the 34th minute. Striker Diego Rolan doubled the lead in the 51st and second-half substitute Abel Hernandez added the insurance goal in the 88th.
In Lima, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas scored two goals apiece for Chile in the 4-3 win over Peru.
Sanchez opened the scoring in the seventh. Peru equalized in the 10th through Jefferson Farfan, but were reduced to 10 men in the 23rd when Christian Cueva was sent off.
Peru still managed to seize the lead when Farfan converted a penalty in the 36th, but Vargas answered in the 41st and Sanchez put Chile ahead with his second goal in the 44th.
Vargas made it 4-2 just minutes after the break, Peru trimming the margin with Paolo Guerrero’s goal in injury time.