THE DAY REPLAYED - Uruguay are the new front-runners in the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Narrow winners at home to Peru, La Celeste now lead the way on goal difference from Ecuador, who suffered their first defeat of the campaign in Colombia. Victorious in their opening four games, La Tri have collected one point out of a possible six in March.

Moving up to third, one place behind them, are Argentina, who prevailed more comfortably than the 2-0 scoreline suggests against Bolivia, while Chile lie fourth after getting back to winning ways in Venezuela.

Two goals to the good against Brazil in Asuncion, Paraguay contrived to let more points slip in injury time, with the resulting 2-2 draw doing neither side much good as they both slipped out of the top five and the qualification/play-off places.

FIFA.com rounds up the highlights of Matchday 6 in the CONMEBOL Zone.

Match of the day
Colombia 3-1 Ecuador
Carlos Bacca 10, 67, Sebastian Perez 48 (Colombia); Michael Arroyo 90 (Ecuador)

Colombia turned in their best performance of the qualifiers to hand Ecuador their first defeat of the campaign. Proving just as influential as they had been in last week’s win in Bolivia, James Rodriguez chipped in with an assist and Carlos Bacca two goals to take his March double-header tally to three. Also on target for the first time was the midfielder Sebastian Perez, marking his 23rd birthday and only his second appearance in style as Jose Nestor Pekerman’s side moved into fifth and the play-off place.

Michael Arroyo’s late free-kick proved scant consolation for the visitors, who shipped in Barranquilla only one goal less than they had conceded in their five previous matches, though their late strike was the first time they had found the back of the net in six qualifiers in Colombia, a scoreless run stretching back 43 years. The only Ecuadorian player to score on Colombian soil previously was Washington Munoz, who struck in a 1-1 draw in 1973 and also scored the goal that gave his country their solitary win away to Los Cafeteros in 1965.

Elsewhere
Newly elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino was on hand at the Estadio Centenario to watch Uruguay edge out Peru courtesy of Edinson Cavani’s first-half strike, which gave La Celeste their third consecutive qualifying win over the Peruvians in Montevideo, where Oscar Tabarez’s side have yet to concede in this qualifying competition.  

Argentina beat Bolivia 2-0 in Cordoba to become the only side along with Colombia to win both their March qualifiers. The goals came from Gabriel Mercado, who scored his second in three starts, and Lionel Messi, who struck from the penalty spot to take his international tally to 50, just four behind his country’s all-time leading marksman, Gabriel Batistuta.

Chile recovered from their home defeat to Argentina with a fine 4-1 win in Venezuela. Romulo Otero gave the hosts an early lead before braces from Mauricio Pinilla and Arturo Vidal handed Juan Antonio Pizzi his first win as Roja coach. In their seven visits to Venezuela in the preliminaries, Chile have won six – the last five of them on the trot – and drawn one.

In the day’s final game, Brazil came from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in Paraguay. Now among the leading scorers in the competition with four, Dario Lezcano found the back of the net for the third game running to give La Albirroja the lead, with Edgar Benitez then doubling their advantage. Late goals from Ricardo Oliveira and Dani Alves, the second of them coming in stoppage time, gave A Canarinha a valuable point, however. Dunga’s men would have collected all three but for a vital late stop by Paraguay keeper Justo Villar.

Player of the day
Mauricio Pinilla (Chile)

The 32-year-old Atalanta striker marked his first start for his country since October 2011 with a double, his first goals for Chile in a competitive international in over a decade. Strangely enough, that previous goal also came in a World Cup qualifier against La Vinotinto, a 1-0 win back in 2004. Pinilla’s goals helped his side recover from Venezuela’s early opener and record an ultimately comfortable win.

Did you know?
Five players scored on both qualifying matchdays in March: Dario Lezcano of Paraguay and Carlos Bacca of Colombia both found the back of the net three times, while Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani, Argentina’s Gabriel Mercado and Venezuela’s Romulo Otero were all on target twice.

What they said
“It’s rewarding to move to the top but it’s not very important. There are no titles in the qualifiers and people rarely remember who finished first or the order teams qualified in. Qualification is the name of the game here.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez

Matchday 6 results
29 March

Colombia 3-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-0 Peru
Venezuela 1-4 Chile
Argentina 2-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-2 Brazil