Alexis Sanchez put on a masterclass as two-time reigning South American champions Chile eased past rock-bottom Venezuela 3-1 in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Sanchez scored a stunning free-kick to move alongside Marcelo Salas as Chile joint-top goalscorer with his 37th strike in Santiago on Tuesday.
The energetic Arsenal forward – earning his 108th cap – also had a hand in veteran Esteban Paredes’ brace, while he was denied from the penalty spot with 12 minutes remaining after Salomon Rondon’s emphatic header gave the Venezuelans a glimmer of hope just past the hour-mark.
Chile’s fourth consecutive qualifying win at home helped them climb up to fourth in the standings after 14 rounds, leapfrogging Argentina, as Venezuela remain at the foot of the table.
Chile were boosted by the return of key midfielder Arturo Vidal, who missed last week’s 1-0 loss in Argentina through suspension. Veteran forward Paredes also came into Juan Antonio Pizzi’s starting XI as Jose Fuenzalida and Francisco Silva made way.
Lowly Venezuela made two changes of their own after the 2-2 draw at home to Peru, with Darwin Machis and Renzo Zambrano replacing Josef Martinez and Alejandro Guerra.
The writing was on the wall inside the opening five minutes as Sanchez tore Venezuela to shreds.
First, Sanchez left teenage Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez helpless as he curled a stunning fifth-minute free-kick into the net off the crossbar.
Sanchez was in the thick of the action again two minutes later, helping Chile double their lead. The Arsenal forward ducked and weaved his way past opponents before composing himself and playing in Charles Aranguiz, who squared the ball to 36-year-old Paredes for the easiest of tap-ins.
Everything Sanchez touched turned to gold in Santiago and that proved to be the case when he set up Paredes for his second goal and Chile’s third in the 22nd minute.
Pulling the strings out wide, through the middle and everywhere in the front third, Sanchez played the ball out wide before making a darting run to the back post, where he somehow managed to direct his header on target as Paredes bundled the ball over the line.
Venezuela enjoyed some forays forward but had nothing to show for it, despite an appeal for a penalty as Claudio Bravo looked strong between the posts.
Sanchez continued where he left off in the second half, gliding past defenders with ease and slicing open Venezuela’s defence but Vidal was unable to cap off his fine work in the 53rd minute.
Vidal wasted another chance moments later after Paredes – on a hat-trick – squared the ball to the Bayern Munich star, who blazed his effort over the bar.
Chile’s wastefulness kept the door opened for Venezuela, albeit slightly, and the visitors managed to get on the scoresheet thanks to Rondon’s powerful header just past the hour-mark.
That sparked end-to-end action as Jorge Valdivia had his effort saved on the line, while Bravo was forced into a fine save before Venezuela’s Tomas Rincon rattled the crossbar.
Sanchez and Chile should have put the result beyond doubt in the 78th minute but the former Barcelona attacker saw his penalty saved by 19-year-old Farinez after Pablo Hernandez was fouled inside the area.
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