Brazil close in on Russia 2018

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.Messi lifts Argentina above Chile

Brazil were not intimidated by more than 60,000 raucous fans at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, as Tite’s side outclassed second-placed Uruguay 4-1 to stay firmly on course for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho scored an unexpected hat-trick, with Barcelona star Neymar adding another as Brazil rallied from conceding an early penalty, scored by Edinson Cavani.

Neymar

Victory extended Brazil’s lead in the South American qualifying standings to seven points, and was the seventh straight qualifying win since the coach took over from Dunga in September. The five-time World Cup winners could qualify for Russia next Tuesday with victory over Paraguay, if Ecuador and Chile both fail to win.

Brazil’s impressive away win did not begin promisingly, a blunder by defender Marcelo leading goalkeeper Alisson to foul Cavani only seven minutes after kick-off. That allowed the PSG striker to score his ninth goal in South American qualifiers, more than any other player. It was the first time Tite had seen his team trail, and against a team that had won all six of their home qualifiers so far.

Ten minutes later Paulinho, now playing for Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, levelled the game with a shot from the edge of the box that flew into goalkeeper Martin Silva’s left corner. The scores remained level at halftime, but Brazil’s dominance was evident. After 52 minutes, Paulinho scored again to put the visitors in front and the Estadio Centenario went silent.

Elsewhere, Argentina boosted their qualification chances with a narrow win over Chile in Buenos Aires. The hosts prevailed 1-0 thanks to a 16th-minute penalty from Lionel Messi. The win moved Eduardo Bauza’s side up to third in the table, with Chile slipping to sixth.

The result takes the pressure off Argentina, whose players have refused to speak to the media because of criticism they have endured over recent games.

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