Alexis Sanchez put on a masterclass as two-time reigning South American champions Chile eased past rock-bottom Venezuela 3-1 in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
Sanchez scored a stunning free-kick to move alongside Marcelo Salas as Chile joint-top goalscorer with his 37th strike in Santiago on Tuesday.
The energetic Arsenal forward – earning his 108th cap – also had a hand in veteran Esteban Paredes’ brace, while he was denied from the penalty spot with 12 minutes remaining after Salomon Rondon’s emphatic header gave the Venezuelans a glimmer of hope just past the hour-mark.
Chile’s fourth consecutive qualifying win at home helped them climb up to fourth in the standings after 14 rounds, leapfrogging Argentina, as Venezuela remain at the foot of the table.
Chile were boosted by the return of key midfielder Arturo Vidal, who missed last week’s 1-0 loss in Argentina through suspension. Veteran forward Paredes also came into Juan Antonio Pizzi’s starting XI as Jose Fuenzalida and Francisco Silva made way.
Lowly Venezuela made two changes of their own after the 2-2 draw at home to Peru, with Darwin Machis and Renzo Zambrano replacing Josef Martinez and Alejandro Guerra.
The writing was on the wall inside the opening five minutes as Sanchez tore Venezuela to shreds.
First, Sanchez left teenage Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez helpless as he curled a stunning fifth-minute free-kick into the net off the crossbar.
Sanchez was in the thick of the action again two minutes later, helping Chile double their lead. The Arsenal forward ducked and weaved his way past opponents before composing himself and playing in Charles Aranguiz, who squared the ball to 36-year-old Paredes for the easiest of tap-ins.
Everything Sanchez touched turned to gold in Santiago and that proved to be the case when he set up Paredes for his second goal and Chile’s third in the 22nd minute.
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