Brazil scraped a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Peru with a performance which their own coach said lacked inspiration while sharp-shooting Ecuador thumped Paraguay 5-2 on Sunday.
Antonio Valencia, 19, playing his first competitive international, and Edison Mendez scored twice apiece, all from long range, as Ecuador came from two goals down in Quito.
Argentina (25 points from 12 games) and world champions Brazil (23) pulled further away from the pack in the 10-nation South American qualifying group this weekend.
Ecuador (19) also put daylight between themselves and the other teams while only three points separate fourth-placed Paraguay (16) and ninth-placed Peru.
Uruguay (15), Colombia, Chile and Venezuela (all 14) are squeezed in between while bottom-placed Bolivia (10) appear to be out of the running.
The top four nations qualify directly for next year's finals in Germany and the fifth playoff against the Oceania winners for another place.
Brazil striker Ronaldo said before the match in Goiania that club and country were separate matters and he would put his unhappy Real Madrid form behind him against Peru.
The lethargic-looking number nine, jeered at one stage by the 50,000 crowd, squandered his side's two best first-half chances and blamed the heat for his display.
Ronaldo missed his kick altogether when he only needed to flick Cafu's cross into an empty net and shot weakly at Oscar Ibanez after being sent clear by Roberto Carlos.
The Brazil striker atoned in the 74th minute when he slipped a pass through for Kaka to score the winner with his fifth goal of the qualifiers.
Brazil had not scored in their two previous qualifiers against Colombia and Ecuador. The goal was their first in four hours 29 minutes of competitive football.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, in a rare criticism of his team, said they should have been more creative against defensive opponents.
"The team lacked happiness and inspiration," said Parreira. "Given the quality of Brazil's players, we should have created a lot more scoring chances.
"The team was slow and heavy. We got it wrong by playing down the middle and we made it easier for Peru to mark us."
Paraguay raced 2-0 up in 15 minutes in Quito with a Jose Cardozo penalty, his sixth goal of the qualifiers, and a Salvador Cabanas goal on the break.
Ecuador recovered superbly, levelling by halftime after Valencia's low 30-metre shot was misjudged by the usually dependable goalkeeper Justo Villar and Edison Mendez netted with a measured shot from a similar range.The same two players scored again inside five minutes of the second period, both efforts coming from outside the penalty area, while Marlon Ayovi added a fifth with a controversial penalty.