Soccer-Paraguay beat toothless Venezuela to stay top

ASUNCION, Sept 9 Wed Sep 10, 2008 3:05am BST

ASUNCION, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Paraguay scored twice in the first half to beat toothless Venezuela 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday and stay top of the South American group.

Cristian Riveros and Nelson Haedo Valdez scored the goals after poor defending by the visitors, who were equally ineffective in attack as they failed to muster a single shot to test Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar.

Paraguay, who have a 100 percent record from their four home games, top the 10-team group with 17 points and will complete the eighth round of matches in first position regardless of the outcome of the four games to be played Wednesday.

Paraguay, who have qualified for the last three World Cups, are five points clear of Brazil, who host Bolivia, and Argentina, who visit Peru.

Riveros stabbed the ball in from close range after 28 minutes when he was quick to react after Claudio Morel Rodriguez's low pass into the area deflected off a Venezuela defender.

Paraguay's second goal came when Julio Manzur's long clearance out of defence was headed on by Roque Santa Cruz into the path of the unmarked Haedo Valdez, who placed his shot under Renny Vega.

Venezuela, the only South American team never to have played at a World Cup, remained on seven points after their third successive defeat.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Buenos Aires; Editing by Ed Osmond)