Paraguay, bottom of their qualifying group and with almost no hope of reaching a fifth World Cup finals in a row, managed a shock 3-3 draw in Germany on coach Victor Genes’s debut.
World Cup hosts Brazil, fresh from their Confederations Cup triumph, were disappointing in Berne where they failed to recover from a Dani Alves own goal just after the interval.
Argentina, missing captain Messi due to muscle fatigue, won their first meeting with Italy for 12 years in Rome with goals from Napoli’s new striker Gonzalo Higuain and substitute midfielder Ever Banega, though Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back.
England, by no means sure of a direct berth into the World Cup finals, fought back twice for a 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley in an enthralling first clash between the bitter rivals since 1999.
England striker Rickie Lambert made a dream international debut as a substitute at 31 by scoring the winner with his first touch when he headed home a corner seconds after coming on.
Montenegro, who lead European Group H two points ahead of England having played a game more, were held 1-1 by Belarus in Zhodino.
In the night’s only qualifier, Russia blew a chance to overtake Portugal at the top of European Group F when they were upset 1-0 by Northern Ireland in Belfast, Martin Paterson scoring the only goal two minutes before halftime.
Colombia beat Serbia 1-0 in Barcelona with a late goal from midfielder Fredy Guarin while Uruguay and Chile, direct rivals for places at the 2014 finals, enjoyed high-scoring victories.
Diego Forlan netted two first half goals as Uruguay won 4-2 in Japan with unsettled Liverpool striker Luis Suarez also on the scoresheet as both players increased their joint record national team tally to 36 each.
Chile crushed hapless Iraq 6-0 in Denmark with Alexis Sanchez in fine form, scoring twice and laying on two goals for winger Jean Beausejour.
Another of the world’s leading strikers, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, got a hat-trick as Sweden beat neighbours Norway 2-0 in Stockholm.
He was, though, pipped for goal of the night by veteran Anders Svensson who hammered home a twisting, dipping shot for their fourth in his 142nd international.
Jordan, preparing to face Uzbekistan in the Asian playoff for a berth in the intercontinental decider against South America’s fifth-placed team, beat Libya 2-1 in Amman.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)