Ecuador return to automatic berths

LA PAZ - Ecuador crushed a soft-bellied Bolivia 3-1 away in their qualifier on Wednesday to climb back into South America's World Cup berths. The result put Ecuador in fourth, the last of the automatic places for the 2010 finals in South Africa, after they overtook Argentina by one point. The fifth-placed team at the end of the qualifiers next month will play off against a CONCACAF team.

Bolivia, who had already lost all chance of reaching the finals, should have fallen behind in the third minute but Jefferson Montero hit the bar with an empty net at his mercy.

Two minutes later, Edison Mendez made amends for his fellow midfielder's glaring miss when he slipped through the poor Bolivian marking to shoot home past keeper Hugo Suarez.

Suarez made good saves from left back Walter Ayovi and Mendez but Antonio Valencia rifled the ball past the keeper less than a minute after the interval for the second goal. Valencia skipped past his marker on the right in the 57th and hit a low cross which Cristian Benitez turned into the net for the third.

Bolivia pulled one back in the 86th minute when substitute Gerardo Yecerotte headed a cross into the bottom corner at the far post.

With Brazil qualified and Chile and Paraguay with a foot in the finals, Colombia, Uruguay and Venezuela were also vying for the fourth and fifth places in later matches.