MONTEVIDEO • Paulinho was the unlikely hero as he grabbed his first professional hat-trick in a 4-1 win that all but cemented Brazil's place at next year's World Cup.
The five-time World Cup winners recovered from conceding an early goal to beat Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo on Thursday in a qualifier that surpassed Paulinho's wildest expectations.
"I'd never dreamt of a hat-trick that would help the national squad to win a very important three points," said the 28-year-old midfielder, who is not known for his goals.
Labelled by many pundits as a flop at English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, where he netted six goals in 45 appearances, Paulinho showed that he can flourish while plying his trade in the Chinese Super League with champions Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao.
He produced a thunderbolt 10 minutes after Edinson Cavani put the hosts in front from the penalty spot, uncorking a screamer into the top corner from 25 yards.
He then stabbed home Philippe Coutinho's shot in the 51st minute to make it 2-1.
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Brazil coach Tite's win record with the Selecao since taking over in June 2016.
Barcelona superstar Neymar added a third with a sublime chip in the 75th minute to effectively settle the contest.
Paulinho completed his treble in stoppage time, turning in a low cross with his chest to cap a fine display.
The victory gave Tite his eighth win in eight games as coach and lifted leaders Brazil to 30 points in the South American qualifying group, a tally that has been more than enough to guarantee qualification in previous campaigns.
"To come here and win by any score is a great result," said the Brazil coach. "Playing in this stadium and beating Uruguay is difficult for anyone."
Uruguay, who were missing the suspended Luis Suarez, remain in second place in the standings but were scarred by the result.
Coach Oscar Tabarez said: "It hurts... Sometimes these hard knocks give us a clearer picture of where we are. (The result) was not one of the possibilities I considered to be more likely. There is nothing to say, Brazil defended very well and were very forceful."