Brazil first side to qualify for World Cup after powering past Paraguay
Conmebol qualifying, Arena Corinthians - Brazil 3 (Coutinho 34', Neymar 63' Marcelo 86') Paraguay 0
Brazil became the first side to reach the 2018 World Cup after three lovely goals helped them breeze past Paraguay 3-0 in the Conmebol qualifying group.
Though Brazil controlled the game, its first chance fell to Derlis Gonzalez, sent through when Cristian Riveros intercepted Miranda's pass. But confronted with a serious opportunity to score he panicked, thrashing a low shot wide, and it never got as good for Paraguay again.
On 34 minutes, Coutinho zoomed in off the right and played a wall-pass off Paulinho to drill home a lovely opener, and though a self-indulgent run-up cost a second goal when Neymar had a penalty saved, the result was never in doubt. And Neymar himself cemented it, finishing well on 63 minutes, before a lovely move four minutes from time, again featuring a flick from Paulinho, allowed Marcelo to caress a third home goal.
Victory ultimately solidified Brazil's grip at the top of the Conmebol group, while Uruguay's 2-1 loss in Peru later in the evening guaranteed Tite's side a spot in Russia next year.
How much have Brazil improved? It would be wrong to read too much into this performance, given the poverty of their opponents, but nonetheless, Brazil were very impressive. Missing David Luiz and Gabriel Jesus, they still made light work of a potentially tricky opponent - one which led them 2-0 when the sides met earlier in the group. Tite has got players playing in the right positions, and his organisation has given them the confidence to play with freedom. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but the cosmic balance of football has reasserted itself: Brazil are now a team again.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Paulinho (Brazil): After scoring a hat-trick in Montevideo, Paulinho delivered another performance of invention and drive, creating two goals with deft flicks, fashioning various other opportunities, and timing his arrivals into the box beautifully.
13’ - Paraguay make the game a little scrappy, which is exactly what they'll have planned. Brazil, though, look composed and patient, looking for angles ... until Miranda looks for Casemiro, Riveros snaps in, and with his tackle sends Gonzalez streaking through at inside-right. This is a proper chance! But he drags his finish across Alisson and wide of the near post.
34’ - GOAL! Brasil 1-0 Paraguay (Coutinho) This is beautifully done, Coutinho nashing down and in off the right, snapping inside to Paulinho, running off him, picking up the return, and smacking a low curler definitively into the far corner.
49’ - Paulinho has got this late arrival thing down, so when Coutinho's cross is heeled away by Veron, he chests down and lashes a volley just wide. Should've scored.
50’ - Nice from Paulinho again, breaking forward and finding Coutinho on the right. Very deliberately, he then measures a low cross to the far post, where Neymar slides in, but not in time to score. He pokes just wide and then clatters the post, so there's a pause while he recovers.
51’ - PENALTY TO BRAZIL! It's been coming. Neymar saunters inside Da Silva, and as he's preparing to shoot, Perez slides in to perhaps get the ball; Silva is profoundly upset,
53’ - Neymar does some weird, attention-seeking stepping, approaches the ball too straight, and can't get the angle he's after! His shot is too close to Silva, to his right, AND SILVA SAVES IT!
63’ - GOAL DO BRASIL! NEYMAR JUNIOR! Brasil 2x0 Paraguay (Neymar) Redemption! Neymar picks up possession around halfway and speeds off towards the box, and when he reaches it, Da Silva backs off and backs off, feart he'll go outside even though he knows he's going inside. So he goes inside and curls a shot towards the far corner, which clips Valdez and lifts over the keeper who's already committed to a dive. I think Brazil might win this one.
86’ - WHAT A GOAL! Brasil 3x0 Paraguay (Marcelo) This is wonderful! Coutinho moves infield and plays into Paulinho who, back to goal, stuns a kind of backspinning through ball the sends Marcelo in. He could square, he could slot him with his right foot, but instead uses the outside of his left to curl home over the top of the diving Silva. Great stuff!