NATAL, Brazil (AP) — Brazil maintained its momentum in South America's World Cup qualifiers by thrashing Bolivia 5-0 on Thursday, staying a point behind Uruguay which stayed top after defeating Venezuela.
Elsewhere, Copa America champion Chile sank even lower after losing 3-0 to Ecuador, while Colombia managed to beat Paraguay away 1-0 with a goal in the dying minutes. An Argentina team missing star Lionel Messi managed a 2-2 draw at Peru.
Here are the results from Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action:
BLOODIED NEYMAR LEADS BRAZIL BY BOLIVIA
"Ole, ole, ole, ole... Tite! Tite!" It had been ages since a Brazil coach had the pleasure of being hailed as a hero by fans. But that happened on Thursday to Adenor Bacchi, universally known as Tite, only three games after getting the job and winning his third consecutive match for Brazil. Nearly all 30,000 supporters at the Arena das Dunas in sunny Natal, in the country's Northeast, sounded excited about the 55-year-old from the beginning to the end of the hammering of the Bolivians.
The goals were scored by Neymar (10'), Philippe Coutinho (25'), Filipe Luis (38'), Gabriel Jesus (44') and Roberto Firmino (75'). Brazil's goalkeeper Alisson barely touched the ball during the entire game.
Asked about the reaction of fans in the post-match press conference, Tite held the tears and looked above as he repeated "thank you."
Before Tite took over, Brazil wasn't even among the top four positions in South America's qualifying standings—each of which is worth an automatic place at the World Cup in Russia. After victories over Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, Brazil is second in the table with 18 points, one behind leader Uruguay. Bolivia is ninth with seven points.
If Tite's side beats Venezuela away and Uruguay fails to win at Colombia next week, the now excited Brazilian supporters that had feared the humiliation of not even qualifying for the World Cup will instead see their team in No. 1 position.
"We feel that the atmosphere here has changed for the better," right back Dani Alves said at the end of the match, without mentioning Tite's predecessor Dunga.
Barcelona star Neymar delivered a great performance in the 65 minutes he was on the pitch before he left with a bleeding forehead caused by a Bolivian elbow.
He scored the opening goal, repeatedly dribbled through Bolivia's defense, irritated the opposition but also picked his third yellow card, which suspends him from Tuesday's clash against Venezuela, in Merida.
That card, however, makes Neymar an almost sure presence against Argentina in Belo Horizonte on Nov. 10.
Neymar's goal was the 300th of his career, according to the Brazilian federation. These figures include all goals he has scored for Brazil, Santos and Barcelona as a professional since 2009. He also surpassed midfielder Zico as the fourth top goalscorer in Brazil's history. Now Neymar only trails Romario (55), Ronaldo (62) and Pele (77), and he is just 24 years old.
ARGENTINA DRAWS PERU
No Lionel Messi meant no party for Argentina at Peru. After leading twice, Argentina conceded a late goal to the hosts, which resulted in a 2-2 draw. New coach Edgardo Bauza struggled to make his midfield more fluent, and Manchester City's striker Sergio Aguero failed to lead the team in the injured Messi's absence.
Argentina's goals were scored by Ramiro Funes Mori (15) and Gonzalo Higuain (77). Peru initially equalized through Paolo Guerrero (58) and again with a penalty converted by Christian Cueva.
Argentina is now fifth in the standings with 16 points, the same number as Ecuador and Colombia. The Argentines are behind in total victories and goal difference. Peru is in eighth position with eight points.
URUGUAY ROUTS VENEZUELA
South American qualifying leader Uruguay was not surprised by last-place Venezuela in Montevideo and won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Only weeks ago Venezuela nearly beat Argentina, but the Uruguayans didn't offer a chance and won with goals scored by the Seattle Sounders' Nicolas Lodeiro (28') and PSG's Edinson Cavani (46' and 79').
Uruguay has 19 points and Venezuela stays last with its two. Now Uruguay will try to hold on to its lead in Colombia next week.
CHILE FALLS AGAIN
Copa America champions Chile had yet another embarrassing result losing 3-0 to Ecuador in Quito. It could have been much more if the hosts had their finishing right in the second half. Now Ecuador has 16 points in third place, five more than Chile, which is 7th. The Chileans are five points behind the spot that would allow them to be in a playoff for a World Cup placement. Antonio Valencia (18'), Cristian Ramirez (23') and Felipe Caicedo (46') scored the Ecuadorian goals.
Chile could well need the three points they are seeking from the 0-0 home draw with Bolivia in September. Chile's federation claimed that Bolivia fielded an ineligible player, defender Nelson Cabrera.
The strangest incident of the evening was in Ecuador's Enner Valencia being removed in an ambulance after an apparent injury. Local media said police officials could have arrested the Everton player in the end of the match for not paying alimony.
CARDONA LEAVES IT LATE FOR COLOMBIA
Edwin Cardona scored the 90th-minute winner against Paraguay at the Defensores del Chaco stadium, in Asuncion. The result gives a breather to the Colombians, who now have 16 points and sit in fourth place as opposed to 12 for the Paraguayans, who will stay in sixth place.