FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) A goal from midfielder Willian after just 36 seconds helped five-time World Cup champions Brazil to a welcome 3-1 win over Venezuela in Tuesday's second round of World Cup 2018 qualifiers.
Another South American heavyweight in Argentina continued to struggle without its talisman Lionel Messi, enduring a frustrating 0-0 away draw against Paraguay in Asuncion. The 2014 World Cup finalist now has just a point after its first two qualifiers.
Brazil's impressive Willian capitalized on a strong tackle from fellow midfielder Luiz Gustavo to settle the home crowd's nerves following last week's 2-0 loss to Chile.
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Venezuela, with just one win in 22 previous matches against Brazil, was the ideal opponent for a team playing its first competitive home match since the humiliating 7-1 and 3-0 defeats to Germany and the Netherlands respectively ended its involvement in the 2014 World Cup.
Having seen his teammates spurn several clear chances to extend Brazil's lead in the first half, Willian scored his second goal on 42 minutes, finding the top corner from the edge of the area.
Ricardo Oliveira, top scorer in Brazil's domestic league this season with 17 goals for Santos, settled the tie in the 74th minute after a Christian Santos goal for Venezuela had threatened to spoil the atmosphere.
Argentina, which humiliated Paraguay 6-1 in the semi-final of the Copa America in June of this year, could only muster four shots on target during a disappointing display against the same opponent.
Missing both Barcelona star Messi, whose left knee injury is expected to keep him out until late November, and Sergio Aguero, who was stretchered off during last week's 2-0 loss to Ecuador, the goal scoring burden fell to Carlos Tevez and Angel Di Maria. Both proved wasteful.
On 21 minutes, the unmarked Tevez flashed a header over the bar from six yards out, Di Maria having supplied an inviting cross. Eight minutes later the roles were reversed, Di Maria shooting over the top, following good work from Tevez.
A dreadful freekick from Di Maria in the final minute of regulation time, which failed to beat the first defender, was emblematic of Argentina's limp display.
In other qualifiers on Tuesday, Uruguay shrugged off the continued absence of its suspended strikers, Luiz Suarez and Edison Cavani, to beat Colombia 3-0 in Montevideo.
Despite having just 34 percent of possession, the home side was lethal on the counter attack, scoring with three of its four efforts on target.
Captain Diego Godin opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a flying header; his second goal of the campaign. Diego Rolan made it 2-0 early in the second half before substitute Abel Hernandez fired in to the top corner with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Having scored five goals and conceded none, Uruguay has taken an early lead in the two-year qualification marathon.
Chile forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas scored twice each in a 4-3 win at ten-man Peru.
Sanchez put the visitors ahead in the seventh minute, but Jefferson Farfan equalized for the hosts in the 10th, and he put Peru ahead from the penalty spot in the 36th. In between Farfan's two strikes, Peru was reduced to ten men when Christian Cueva was shown red in the 23rd minute.
Chile quickly took advantage of the extra man, scoring three goals in nine minutes either side of halftime. Vargas made it 2-2 in the 41st minute and Sanchez put the visitors ahead in the 44th. Vargas netted his second in the 49th to effectively end the contest, though Paolo Guerrero pulled a goal back in the second minute of stoppage time.
Ecuador defied torrential rain in Quito to secure its second consecutive victory, beating Bolivia 2-0. The home side left it late, Miller Bolanos scoring from inside the area in the 85th minute before Felipe Caicedo won and converted a penalty in the 95th minute.
The third round of World Cup 2018 qualifiers begin on 12 November, with the Argentina versus Brazil clash in Buenos Aires a day later, now looking like a must-win match for the home side.