Alexis Sanchez struck twice in the second half of Chile’s 3-1 win over Uruguay on Tuesday to secure a crucial result in their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Sanchez was named in the starting XI after overcoming a muscle problem which forced him to sit out the goalless draw in Colombia last week.
And the Arsenal star proved to be the difference in Santiago on Tuesday, scoring twice in the second half to complete Chile’s comeback while ending Uruguay’s four-game unbeaten run.
Edinson Cavani had given visiting Uruguay a 17th-minute lead upon his return to the line-up having served a suspension before Eduardo Vargas levelled proceedings on the stroke of half-time.
Sanchez took centre stage from that point, his 60th-minute volley putting Chile ahead and he made sure of the points 16 minutes later with his 36th international goal as he moved within one of Marcelo Salas’ record.
Claudio Bravo gave away a penalty two minutes from the end but he saved Luis Suarez’s spot-kick to ensure Chile leapfrogged Colombia into fourth on 20 points, within three of second-placed Uruguay.
Chile and Uruguay were both boosted by some key inclusions for the showdown at Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos.
Sanchez was among three changes to the starting XI. Gary Medel and Pablo Hernandez were also included as Charles Aranguiz, Esteban Mena and Enzo Roco made way. Meanwhile, captain Bravo and Arturo Vidal were deemed fit enough to play despite coming off injured against the Colombians.
Cavani returned after sitting out Uruguay’s 2-1 win over Ecuador, with Alvaro Gonzalez also starting as Diego Rolan and Cristhian Stuani dropped out.
And Cavani made his presence felt early, almost giving Uruguay the lead inside two minutes. Gonzalo Jara failed to control the ball, allowing Suarez to get in behind and provide a cutback to an unmarked Cavani but his shot was saved by Bravo, with Gonzalez’s follow-up effort flashing wide of the post.
Cavani had another opportunity to break the deadlock three minutes later, however, he blazed over the crossbar as Chile continued to be pegged back.
But Cavani eventually got his goal in the 17th minute. After Chile made a mess of their defensive duties, Suarez nipped in to set up the former, who fired past Bravo.
As the half wore on, Chile – slowly but surely – found their rhythm, creating some decent opportunities via Medel and Mauricio Isla.
And with virtually the last kick of the half, Chile equalised thanks to Vargas. The Hoffenheim forward steadied his run and steered a header beyond Fernando Muslera from Jean Beausejour’s inch-perfect delivery – ending his seven-match scoreless run in internationals.
Chile continued where they left off in the second half, dictating the play and tempo, before star midfielder Vidal was substituted 12 minutes after the break.
Vidal’s withdrawal did not derail the Chileans though, Sanchez putting the hosts ahead on the hour-mark, turning his opponent and allowing the ball to bounce before volleying powerfully.
Vargas almost doubled Chile’s lead minutes later, while Uruguay kept Bravo busy at the other end, getting in behind on more than one occasion in search of an equaliser.
The match was put beyond doubt with 14 minutes remaining, when Diaz lofted a ball forward to Sanchez, who kept his composure and outmuscled two defenders to curl the ball beyond Muslera.
Uruguay’s hopes of a late comeback were dashed in the 88th minute after Bravo, who gave away a penalty, pushed Suarez’s attempt away.