Brazil destroys Uruguay, Argentina survives in qualifiers

Uruguay's Edinson Cavani leaves the field after loosing against Brazil 1-4 during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Brazil in Montevideo, Uruguay, Thursday, March 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a penalty kick during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match between Argentina and Chile at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday March 23, 2017.(AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
Argentina’s Lionel Messi controls the ball past Chile’s Jean Beausejour during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match between Argentina and Chile at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday March 23, 2017. Argentina won the match 1-0. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Uruguay's Edinson Cavani, center, heads the ball away from Brazil's Marquinhos, left, during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Montevideo, Uruguay, Thursday, March. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Brazil's Paulinho celebrates his hat trick during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Uruguay in Montevideo, Uruguay, Thursday, March. 23, 2017. Brazil won the match 4-1. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Brazil's Neymar, center, fights for the ball with Uruguay's Sebastian Coates, second from right, during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Montevideo, Uruguay,Thursday, March 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
Argentina’s Lionel Messi leaves the pitch after a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match between Argentina and Chile at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday March 23, 2017. Argentina won the match 1-0. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

SAO PAULO — Brazil were not intimidated by more than 60,000 raucous fans at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, beating second-place Uruguay 4-1 in South America's World Cup qualifying group to retain the lead in the standings after 13 matches. Midfielder Paulinho scored a surprising hat trick, with Barcelona star Neymar adding another, to keep their team firmly on course for football's main event in Russia next year.

Brazil is still to lose a point under coach Tite, who took over in September and secured on Thursday his seventh straight win in the South American qualifiers. Now the five-time World Cup champions total 30 points, seven more than Uruguay and 10 above the lowest place that guarantees a berth in the next World Cup.

With five games to play, Brazil could qualify next Tuesday with victory over Paraguay if Ecuador and Chile fail to win their games.

Argentina beat Chile 1-0 thanks to a penalty scored by Lionel Messi and managed to stay in the chase for a spot in the tournament, going third with 22 points. Chile is in sixth, outside the qualification zone.

Fourth-place Colombia also needed a penalty to score a 1-0 home victory against Bolivia.

Elsewhere, seventh-place Paraguay beat fifth-place Ecuador 2-1 and bottom team Venezuela drew 2-2 with eighth-place Peru.

_____

BRAZIL

For the first time since September, a team scored against Brazil. A blunder by defender Marcelo led goalkeeper Alisson to foul striker Edinson Cavani only 7 minutes after kick off. That allowed the Uruguayan to score his ninth goal in South American qualifiers, more than any other player. It was the first time coach Tite saw his team trail, and that happened against a team that had won all six home games.

Ten minutes later midfielder Paulinho leveled the game with a blast from the edge of the box into goalkeeper Martin Silva's left corner. The game continued in a tie until halftime, but Brazil's dominance was evident. At 52 minutes, Paulinho scored again to put the visitors in front. The Estadio Centenario went silent.

Uruguay stepped up the pressure to level, but Brazil was countering dangerously. On 74 minutes, Neymar's genius appeared. After defender Miranda cleared the ball from his box, the Barcelona star beat Uruguayan Coates in a quick race and lobbed Silva to make it 3-1. By then the Montevideo stadium, which hosted the 1930 World Cup final, sounded more like the Maracana in Rio, with only Brazilian voices being heard.

But that was not all. At 92 minutes, after Brazil wasted a series of other opportunities, Paulinho completed his hat-trick with his chest, after a cross from the right from substitute Diego Souza. "Not in my wildest dreams I expected something like this," the Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder said after the match.

Uruguay resented the absence of suspended targetman Luis Suarez, while Brazil missed teenage sensation Gabriel Jesus, who has a broken toe.

Brazil will miss defender Dani Alves in the clash against Paraguay on Tuesday in Sao Paulo -- the match that will likely secure its spot in the next World Cup. Uruguay will travel to face Peru.

ARGENTINA

Messi's goal gave Argentina a valuable victory, putting Edgardo Bauza's side once again in the qualification zone. The Chileans complained about the penalty decision, but failed to take advantage of an unimaginative Argentine team that managed to get few opportunities to score at the Monumental de Nunez in Buenos Aires.

The result takes pressure off Argentina, a team whose players have refused to talk to the press because of criticism they have endured over recent games. Bauza had to speak some words, but they were not too encouraging for the team's future. "What matters is that we won," the coach said.

Messi was a dominant figure in the match, not only in creating space but also in marking Chilean rivals.

The Chileans could not count on midfielder Arturo Vidal and towards the end of the match were only offering opportunities to the hosts.

In the next round, Argentina will travel to Bolivia and Chile will take on Venezuela at home.

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