MONTEVIDEO: Neymar is now second only to Pele among Brazil’s all-time leading scorers.
A hat-trick by Neymar on Tuesday gave Brazil a 4-2 win at Peru and the lead in South American World Cup qualifying.
The 28-year-old striker now has 64 goals for Brazil, overtaking Ronaldo. He celebrated one of his goals by mimicking the former No 9’s celebration showing his index finger.
An apparently more mature Neymar scored twice from the spot in Lima and once in added time to lead Brazil, who twice rallied from behind. He’s now 13 goals behind the great Pele’s career tally.
Hours earlier, Joaquin Correa scored the winner 11 minutes from time as Lionel Messi’s Argentina topped Bolivia 2-1 four their first win in the altitude of La Paz since 2005 to maintain their 100% record after two matches.
Brazil and Argentina each have six points, but the Brazilians lead the standings with a superior goal difference after thrashing Bolivia 5-0 in the opening game in Sao Paulo last week.
In other results Tuesday, Colombia were held to a 2-2 draw at Chile, Uruguay lost 4-2 at Ecuador and Paraguay beat Venezuela 1-0 away with a goal by Gaston Gimenez in the 85th minute.
The next qualifiers in South America will be in November. South America will have four direct berths in the 2022 World Cup. The fifth-best team can earn qualification through an intercontinental playoff.
Peru started the match imposing their aggressive style and reaped the benefits in the sixth minute, with a right-foot volley by Andre Carrillo from the edge of the box. It was his third goal in South American qualifiers, following a brace in Peru’s opening 2-2 draw at Paraguay.
Peru Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese then denied Roberto Firmino from point blank range after he seemed certain to tap home from Richarlison’s cushioned header.
Brazil dominated the ball but Peru’s pacey forwards looked dangerous on the counter-attack and visiting goalkeeper Weverton had to be alert to keep out a shot from Christofer Gonzales.
But Neymar sent Gallese the wrong way from the spot after Yoshimar Yotun was penalised for tugging his shirt in the box.
The Brazilians kept pressuring and wasting chances after the break. And out of nowhere, Renato Tapia’s speculative long-range strike took a wicked deflection off Rodrigo Caio and wrong-footed Weverton on 59 minutes.
The lead lasted only a few minutes before Richarlison touched a Firmino header from a corner over the line to restore parity.
The winner came seven minutes from time as Carlos Zambrano was harshly adjudged to have fouled Neymar.
Worse was still to come for Zambrano as he was sent off minutes later for a stray elbow that caught Richarlison and Neymar drilled home the final nail in Peru’s coffin after Gallese spilled a shot from Everton Ribeiro.
La Paz has old traumas for Argentina in World Cup qualifiers. The biggest was in 2009, when Bolivia had an astonishing 6-1 win over Messi’s team. The superstar also failed to impress in 2017, losing 2-0 in the Bolivian capital.
History seemed set to repeat after Marcelo Martins opened the scoring for the hosts with an easy header in the 24th minute, raising the specter of another bad day for the Argentina team 3,600 metres (11,800 feet) above sea level in the Bolivian capital.
But in first-half stoppage time, Bolivia defender Jos Carrasco failed to clear close to the line and the ball hit the right leg of Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez and went into the net.
The goal made Martinez the first Argentina player other than Messi to score in a World Cup qualifier since a 3-0 home win against Colombia in 2016. Seven matches took place in between.
Just when the draw seemed to be good enough for Argentina, whose players were clearly taking their time to catch their breath, Bolivia made another costly defensive mistake in the 79th.
Messi found Martinez on the edge of the box. The striker calmly assisted unmarked Correa, who beat goalkeeper Carlos Lampe with a left-foot shot.
Bolivia’s national team is mired in a political fight between clubs and the sport’s national governing body. Many of its main players are sitting out World Cup qualifiers.
Ecuador totally dominated Uruguay in Quito.
They took the lead on 15 minutes as Moises Caicedo flicked home a header from an Angel Mena cross.
Both sides had a goal ruled out following a VAR review before Michael Estrada doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time, rifling home from inside the box after a mistake by veteran Uruguay center-back Diego Godin.
Uruguay were denied again by VAR before Ecuador went straight up the other end where Estrada cracked home Antonio Valencia’s backheel from 20 yards.
Ecuador’s final goal was a work of art as Alan Franco’s reverse pass bemused Uruguay’s defence and Gonzalo Plata rolled his foot over the ball to commit both sliding defender Ronald Araujo and goalkeeper Martin Campana before stroking the ball into the far corner.
Luis Suarez scored his record-extending 61st and 62nd goals for Uruguay with a pair of late penalties that were no more than a consolation.
Radamel Falcao scored an injury time equaliser as Colombia salvaged a point in Chile.
Jefferson Lerma gave Colombia an early lead but Chile turned the match around by half-time with strikes from Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez.
Gimenez scored a late winner before goalkeeper Anthony Silva saved a penalty from Yangel Herrera as Paraguay won in Venezuela.
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020