Brazil complete revival, 1st to qualify for World Cup

Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho (right) celebrates his goal with his team-mates. He put his side 1-0 up on 34 minutes.
Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho (right) celebrates his goal with his team-mates. He put his side 1-0 up on 34 minutes.PHOTO: REUTERS

MONTEVIDEO • Brazil became the first team to qualify for the World Cup on Tuesday after beating Paraguay to clinch an eighth consecutive victory.

Five-time champions Brazil had been left waiting in suspense after goals from Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Marcelo handed them a 3-0 win over the Paraguayans at Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians.

But Uruguay's upset 2-1 defeat by Peru in the day's final South American qualifier, combined with other results, meant Brazil are mathematically guaranteed a place at next year's Finals in Russia.

Brazil lead the standings on 33 points with four matches to play, 11 points ahead of arch-rivals Argentina, who slipped back into fifth after a 2-0 defeat away by Bolivia without suspended captain Lionel Messi.

The top four teams qualify automatically and the fifth play off against a team from another confederation. Paraguay are in eighth spot on 18 points, behind Peru on goal difference.

The qualification completes an astonishing turnaround for Brazil, who less than a year ago were in crisis after taking only nine points from six games. That run of results had left the Brazilians outside the qualifying places in sixth place.

The further embarrassment of a first-round exit at last year's Copa America Centenario only deepened the sense of despondency. However, the sacking of coach Dunga and the appointment of former Corinthians coach Tite was the catalyst for a Brazilian resurgence.That revival saw Brazil take maximum points from their next eight qualifiers, leaving them nine points clear on Tuesday.

"When I look at my family - the players - and when we talk to the fans and see how happy they are, that's when you think 'I'm part of something very special'," Tite said after Brazil's qualification was confirmed.

Against Paraguay, Brazil were already in party mode, with Coutinho opening the scoring on 34 minutes following a deft one-two with Paulinho.

Neymar had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 53rd minute from the penalty spot only to see his kick saved by Anthony Silva.

On 64 minutes, Neymar doubled Brazil's tally, collecting the ball deep inside his own half and setting off on a surging run down the left flank.

His dribble ended with him curling in a shot which took a slight deflection on its way into the Paraguayan goal. Real Madrid defender Marcelo added a late third to cement the win.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2017, with the headline 'Brazil complete revival, 1st to qualify for World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe