RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Cruzeiro midfielder Ramires capped a sparkling performance with two goals to help the Brazilian side register a 3-1 victory against Paraguay's Cerro Porteno in a Libertdores Cup qualifying match on Wednesday.
An experienced Cerro team made life difficult for Cruzeiro in the first-leg match but Ramires put the home side on course for the group stages of the South American club championships with driving runs and an eye for goal.
His first strike was clipped neatly over the advancing Cerro goalkeeper Diego Barreto.
Marcelo Moreno extended the lead with a sharp drive before Nelson Cabrera brought the visitors back into contention from the penalty spot.
Ramires restored the two-goal cushion with another accurate drive following good approach play by Marcinho, and he was unlucky not to collect a hat-trick when a third strike was ruled offside.
Cruzeiro face a difficult return leg trip to Asuncion on Feb. 6 and the winner of the tie will earn a place in Group One alongside Caracas (Venezuela), Real Potosi (Bolivia), and San Lorenzo (Argentina)
In another tie, Mexican club Atlas struggled to register a 2-0 win over La Paz and may regret not making more of their scoring opportunities when they play the second leg at high altitude in Bolivia next week.
Striker Ulises Mendivil spurned several chances in an error-strewn match, but he managed to give Atlas the lead following a clumsy mistake by La Paz goalkeeper Mauro Machado.
Eduardo Rergis provided the game with a rare moment of quality when he struck the second goal from long range.
Six places in the group stages of the Libertadores Cup are up for grabs in the preliminary qualifying round.
Argentine club Arsenal moved closer to one of the berths on Tuesday with a 2-0 home win over Venezuela's Mineros de Guayana.
Veteran striker Jose Luis Calderon broke the deadlock shortly before halftime and Luciano Leguizamon extended the lead with a free-kick.
Arsenal and Mineros are fighting for a place in Group Eight, alongside LDU Quito (Ecuador), Libertad (Paraguay) and Fluminense (Brazil).