MONTEVIDEO: Colombia remained on course to end their 16-year World Cup finals exile on Friday after sweeping aside Bolivia 5-0 in South American qualifiers.
Goals from Macnelly Torres, Carlos Valdez, Teofilo Gutierrez, Radamel Falcao and Pablo Armero secured an easy win as Colombia moved to within one point of leaders Argentina, who play Veneuzuela in Buenos Aires later Friday.
Colombia, who are revelling under the guidance of former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, now look perfectly poised to reach next year’s finals in Brazil – their first appearance at the tournament since 1998.
In the second of Friday’s four qualifiers, Uruguay’s hopes of a vital victory against rivals Paraguay were dashed after they conceded a late equaliser in a bruising game which finished 1-1 in Montevideo.
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez looked to have settled a niggly encounter when he volleyed home a Nicolas Lodeiro cross on 82 minutes.
But Paraguay, who had rarely threatened during a stop-start game scarred by some rugged tackling throughout, plucked an equaliser against the run of play four minutes later when substitute Edgar Benitez slotted home.
The draw saw Uruguay inch into the automatic qualifying spots, leapfrogging Venezuela in fourth, but coach Oscar Tabarez will be left ruing the failure to take all three points.
Earlier, Barranquilla’s Metropolitano Stadium had rocked before kick-off in Colombia’s clash with Bolivia as the home crowd paid an emotional tribute to former national keeper Miguel Calero, who died in December aged 41.
Colombia found the back of the net twice in the opening 10 minutes only for each effort to be disallowed for offside by referee Carlos Alfredo Vera.
Atletico Madrid’s highly coveted striker Falcao glanced in a seventh-minute header before Gutierrez saw his low shot ruled out three minutes later.
But with Juan Zuniga and Fiorentina wingback Juan Cuadrado providing width, Colombia were always in control against a Bolivian side who struggled to deal with their opponents’ superior pace.
Colombia took the lead on 20 minutes, sweeping upfield rapidly before Falcao picked up the ball on the edge of the area.
Falcao’s pass found the overlapping Cuadrado, who rolled a low cross across the area which somehow eluded a clutch of Bolivian defenders to find Torres, who stroked home the opener.
The goal should not have stood however as replays showed Cuadrado was several yards offside when he received the pass from Falcao.
Colombia doubled their lead shortly after half-time when Bolivia failed to clear a knock-down from Abel Aguilar which Valdez prodded home.
Gutierrez then made the game safe on 62 minutes, latching onto a through ball from Torres before steering past Bolivia’s substitute keeper Sergio Galarza for 3-0.
Three minutes from time Falcao made it 4-0 with a deft finish from close-range before substitute Armero completed the rout in stoppage time.
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