Uruguay retained top spot in the CONMEBOL section of 2018 World Cup qualifying with Edinson Cavani scoring twice in a 3-0 win over 10-man Venezuela on Thursday.
After being put under early pressure, Oscar Tabarez’s men struck through Nicolas Lodeiro and a Cavani double at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.
The victory only came after the hosts were fortunate not to fall behind as Adalberto Penaranda and Salomon Rondon missed excellent chances.
But Luis Suarez set up Lodeiro in the first half before Cavani scored seconds after the break and again in the 79th minute to see Uruguay stay top.
Any chances of a Venezuela comeback were all but ended when Oswaldo Vizcarrondo saw red in the second half – before Cavani’s second – as they remained bottom and winless after nine matches.
Venezuela were the livelier of the two teams early on, although Carlos Sanchez did flash an effort wide for the hosts in the ninth minute.
The visitors were unable to capitalise on a flurry of corners, with Penaranda particularly impressive. The teenage forward, however, would squander a glorious opportunity midway through the half.
A counter-attack led to Rondon heading a pass into Penaranda’s path and Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera came out but missed his clearance, only for the Udinese man to miss an open goal from the edge of the area.
Rondon fired just wide soon after, and they would be punished for those misses prior to the half-hour mark.
Suarez retrieved a long pass down the left and weighted his cross superbly for Lodeiro, whose diving header was unable to be kept out by Dani Hernandez.
Alejandro Guerra had a goal ruled out for offside for Venezuela, who were unable to create any other chances before the break.
Uruguay, who had been stunned by the same opposition at the Copa America in June, made the ideal start to the second half thanks to Cavani.
A loose ball fell for the Paris Saint-Germain forward and he found the bottom corner within a minute of the restart.
In a blow to Venezuela’s chances, Vizcarrondo was shown his second yellow card in the 65th minute after bringing down Suarez just outside the area.
Hernandez made a fine stop from Sanchez before Uruguay sealed their win in the 79th minute.
Sanchez was released down the right and crossed for Suarez, whose brilliant flick was hammered in by Cavani.
With his goal, Cavani joined Diego Forlan on 36 senior international strikes – with only Suarez having scored more for the nation.
Next up for Uruguay is a tricky trip to Colombia, while Venezuela face the daunting prospect of entertaining Brazil.