Venezuela pulls off upset with 1 0 win over Ecuador in World Cup qualifier

Venezuela provided the first upset of South America’s World Cup qualifiers, winning 1-0 away at a sluggish Ecuador.

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A 67th minute goal by Jose Manuel Rey was enough for Venezuela at Quito’s Atahualpa Olympic Stadium, boosting hopes of a first ever World Cup appearance for the Caribbean nation, while setting back Ecuador, which has played in the past two World Cups.

Ecuador tired after missing clear shots in the first half. Forward Cristian Benitez failed to cash in on two good opportunities early in the match.

Ecuador reached the second round in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but was eager to redeem itself after a first-round exit at the Copa America in Venezuela this past June and July.

Meanwhile at Buenos Aires, Argentina, Juan Roman Riquelme scored off two first-half free kicks Saturday as Argentina beat Chile 2-0 in the opening World Cup qualifier for both teams.

Riquelme notched his goals in the 26th and 45th minutes against a Chilean team that has never beaten its rival.

A playmaker who helped Argentina to second place in last July’s Copa America, Riquelme booted in smooth, precise shots that beat Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to the left upper corner of the net each time.

Riquelme! Riquelme! the crowd roared after each goal.

For us it was important to begin the series by winning, Riquelme said. The team is playing well right now and we deservedly won.

Uruguay also made a dominant start by crushing Bolivia 5-0 at home in Montevideo.

Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan, Sebastian Abreu, Vicente Sanchez and Carlos Buenos all scored for two-time World Cup champions as the race began for a place at South Africa 2010.

Suarez gave the hosts the lead in the fourth minute at the Centenario with a right-footed shot. Forlan, of Spain’s Atletico Madrid, made it 2-0 in the 37th with a firmly-hit shot.

Bolivia’s hopes of stemming the tide suffered when Ronald Garcia was sent off four minutes before half time. Abreu scored Uruguay’s third goal off a rebound inside the area just two minutes into the second half.

Sanchez scored in the 65th and Bueno added another in the 82nd.

Uruguay visits Paraguay on Wednesday, while Bolivia hosts Colombia.

In other South American World Cup qualifying action on Saturday, Peru and Paraguay played to a scoreless draw at the Peruvian capital Lima.

Chile opened its quest for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by exerting heavy pressure, closely marking star striker Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and fellow forward Carlos Tevez of Manchester United, limiting their effectiveness early on.

Chile came close to scoring, first off the boot of youngster Arturo Vidal in the fourth minute and again in the 15th off a powerful kick by Humberto Suazo. But Argentine goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri, a veteran of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, blocked both clear chances.

Vidal also played in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada in July scoring two goals in six matches and helping Chile capture the bronze medal against Austria in Toronto.

Argentina then turned up its offence with Tevez threatening in the area after a pass from Riquelme in the first period that he couldn’t capitalize on. Maxi Rodriguez also had a scoring chance in the 31st minute, his shot sizzling just wide of the left upright.

In the second half, Chile’s Marcelo Salas substituted for Eduardo Rubio in a changeup intended to alter the dynamic of Chile’s attack. Salas had one close scoring chance four minutes into the half, but was called offsides as he approached Abbondanzieri in a one-on-one situation.

In the 54th minute, Cristian Alvarez was expelled from the Chilean side for repeated warnings, leaving the visitors down one man. But Chile continued attempts at attacking with Suazo and Salas still threatening the Argentine net.

Argentina did little to threaten in the second half against a feisty Chilean offence.

The match was played before a sold-out crowd of 63,000 fans at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium, including some 5,000 Chilean fans who came from the neighbouring country.

Argentina plays its next elimination match Tuesday against Venezuela in Maracaibo, Venezuela, while Chile welcomes Peru in Santiago next week. Ecuador’s next match is Wednesday away to Brazil at Rio de Janeiro.