(corrects first paragraph to clarify Uruguay and Venezuela earned first wins of the tournament)
By Brian Homewood
PUERTO LA CRUZ, Venezuela, June 30 (Reuters) - Uruguay and hosts Venezuela registered their first victories in the Copa America on Saturday, although both victories were marred by foul play and refereeing problems.
On a wet, windy day in the Andean city of San Cristobal, a bruising Uruguay beat Bolivia 1-0 in a Group A double bill while Venezuela overcame Peru 2-0 after their opponents had a player sent off in the 14th minute.
Mexican referee Benito Armando Archundia, caught up in a storm last week for his handling of the United States v Canada Gold Cup semi-final, also angered Peru by not awarding a second-half penalty.
The game, which produced Venezuela’s first Copa win for three decades, ended in ugly scenes after Alejandro Cichero played keepy-uppy near his own penalty area and was booked, apparently for ungentlemanly conduct.
Cichero’s behaviour incensed Peru, leading to a scuffle on the edge of the area and pushing and shoving as the players left the pitch.
Venezuela went top of the group with four points, followed by Peru and Uruguay with three apiece and Bolivia with one.
“Venezuela did very little, we created five or six clear scoring chances in the second half,” said Peru coach Julio Cesar Uribe.
“The sending-off influenced (the outcome) but we have to accept it as part of football.”
Peru, fresh from a 3-0 win over Uruguay on the opening day, began brightly but the game changed in the 14th minute.
Pedro Garcia was involved in a fierce tussle with Venezuela’s Giancarlo Maldonado, but the Peruvian was sent off for elbowing while Maldonado, who appeared to start the incident, received a yellow card.
Television replays showed contact was made on the chin, but Maldonado fell over backwards.
He laid on the ground, clutching his face in agony before returning to his feet as soon as Garcia was dismissed.
Peru held out until halftime but four minutes after the break, Cichero outjumped the defence to head in from a corner.
The visitors were protesting again in the 62nd minute. Paulo Guerrero won a loose ball and crossed to Pizarro, who appeared to be tripped by Hector Gonzalez as he tried to tap the ball in.
Referee Archunda, who last week infuriated Canada by disallowing what would have been a stoppage-time equaliser in their 2-1 Gold Cup defeat to the U.S., waved play on.
Venezuela midfielder Richard Paez was sent off in the 78th minute, picking up a second yellow card for petulantly kicking the ball away after an offside decision.
But a minute later, substitute Daniel Arismendi burst down the left, cut inside and scored with a low shot which crept inside the post.
Vicente Sanchez’s 58th minute goal was enough to give Uruguay the points in the first match.
However, Bolivia were also angry as U.S. referee Baldomero Toledo failed to punish some wild Uruguay challenges, especially a scything tackle from behind by Carlos Diogo on Jaime Moreno.
Toledo appeared uncomfortable in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of South American soccer and struggled to control the game.
Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in San Cristobal Editing by Martin Petty, Asia Sports Desk; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org; +66 2 648 9707