THE DAY REPLAYED - Argentina and Uruguay, the two finalists at the inaugural FIFA World Cup™ in 1930, showed their pedigree by seeing off Chile and Bolivia respectively in a brace of comfortable wins as the scramble for places at South Africa 2010 got underway on Saturday.
The neighbours on the banks of the River Plate were not the only ones smiling as the curtain came up on the continental qualifying competition. Traditional makeweights Venezuela made a little bit of history when they won away to Ecuador, while the Peru-Paraguay and Colombia-Brazil matches ended in goalless draws.
Read on as FIFA.com rounds up all the action from the opening round of games.
Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez was a happy man as he made his return to the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament. The man they call ElMaestro saw his charges sweep aside Bolivia at the Estadio Centenario with a masterful display of attacking football.
The Celeste were irresistible from the off, carving out three chances in as many minutes before Luis Suarez put them on the road to a victory that could have been even more comprehensive. Powerless to prevent the sky blue avalanche, the task facing Erwin Sanchez's side became virtually impossible when Ronald Garcia was sent off just before half-time, and after the restart it was merely question of how many the goal-hungry Uruguayan frontline could rack up.
After a promising performance at the recent Copa America, where they reached the last eight for the very first time, the Vinotinto had high expectations going into the qualifying tournament. And not even a daunting opening day trip to Ecuador's Atahualpa fortress in Quito could dampen the enthusiasm of the Venezuelans, who rode their luck before grabbing three priceless points when Jose Manuel Rey arrowed home a superb free-kick midway through the second half.
The visitors were grateful for the profligacy of Ecuadorian strike duo Cristian Benitez and Carlos Tenorio, who spurned a string of chances and hit the bar twice before Rey stole the show and the points with his trademark strike.
Player of the day
Juan Roman Riquelme (ARG)
There was plenty of speculation about the Argentinian playmaker's form and fitness after he had spent a frustrating three months on the sidelines. Despite being surplus to requirements at Villarreal, the elegant Riquelme showed class is permanent when he inspired the Albiceleste to victory over Chile with two typically spectacular free-kicks. After taking an early lead in the goalscoring charts, the ever-modest midfielder spoke of his satisfaction at being back in the thick of things. "I'm delighted with the goals but even happier we won. This teams knows what it's doing and that's much more important than anything I do."
Not for the first time Juan Roman Riquelme reached the pinnacle of free-kick perfection with his two textbook strikes on Saturday. With 27 minutes on the clock, the Argentinian wrapped his right foot around the ball and sent it curling round the Chilean wall and past the helpless Claudio Bravo. And just to prove it was no fluke, the dead-ball specialist did it again 18 minutes later, leaving Bravo rooted to the spot once more in a carbon-copy display of pure poise and technique.
Although the Uruguayans got off to a flier with a comprehensive win, history shows they should be taking nothing for granted. They kicked off with the same result in the race for Germany 2006 only to miss out on qualification. Argentina and Venezuela reproduced the good form they showed in the recent Copa America, while Ecuador and Chile will need to raise their game and their morale if they are to bounce back in next week's games.
In Lima, Jose del Solar and Gerardo Martino opened their
qualifying accounts with a point following a match that was high on
passion but low on goalmouth incident. Disappointed not to come
away with more, the
Albirroja fashioned some useful openings but were left to
rue their lack of finishing power.
An assured touch in front of goal also cost Colombia a winning start to their qualification campaign, the impressive Wason Renteria missing their two best chances en route to a 0-0 draw against Brazil. The five-time world champions failed to get out of first gear as the rain poured down in Bogota, but a point from a testing away game will have satisfied coach Dunga.
The numbers game
Thanks to Jose Manuel Rey's thunderbolt, Venezuela recorded their maiden win in Quito and inflicted a first defeat on the Tricolor in their virtually impregnable citadel in six years and two months. The last side to leave the Ecuadorian capital with maximum points were Argentina, who won 2-0 back on 15 August 2001 en route to Korea/Japan 2002.
The final match in the opening round pits Colombia against Brazil on Sunday. The ten teams will all be in action again in midweek, however, with Argentina facing Venezuela in Maracaibo on Tuesday evening, and the four remaining games taking place the following day: Bolivia-Colombia, Chile-Peru, Paraguay-Uruguay and Brazil-Ecuador.