SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Neymar shrugged off some rough tackling and a missed penalty to score a brilliant solo goal as he led Brazil to a 3-0 win over Paraguay which booked their place at the 2018 World Cup finals on Tuesday.
It was Brazil’s eighth consecutive win in qualifying and, combined with Peru’s 2-1 win over Uruguay in a later game, ensured they would finish the 10-nation group in the top four, guaranteeing them a berth at the Russia finals.
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 to 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 early part of the match was marked by a string of fouls on Neymar but the first big chance was a breakaway by Paraguay’s Derlis Gonzalez, who hurried his shot and put the ball wide.
Midfielder Hernan Perez missed another chance for Paraguay before Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring for the hosts in the 34th minute at the Corinthians Arena.
The Liverpool playmaker played a neat one-two with Paulinho before curling a low, left-foot shot past goalkeeper Anthony Silva and inside the far corner.
Neymar was awarded a penalty after being brought down early in the second half but his stop-start run-up failed to deceive Silva and the keeper saved with a dive to his right then blocked his effort with the rebound.
Stung by the miss, Neymar made up for it 10 minutes later, scampering down the left wing from inside his own half, skipping tackles and driving into the box before beating a wrong-footed Silva with a shot that took a deflection off a defender.
Neymar, who thought he had a second goal when he picked up a rebound off a team mate in an offside position and put the ball in the net, came in for some more heavy treatment from Paraguay, who hardly troubled Brazil goalkeeper Alisson in the second half.
Left back Marcelo put the icing on the cake with another fine goal in the closing minutes for Brazil, who extended their South American qualifying record with the victory.
Peru’s win pulled them within four points of Argentina and kept alive their own faint hopes of qualifying for a first World Cup since 1982.
Carlos Sanchez turned in Luis Suarez’s pass to give Uruguay the lead after half an hour but Paolo Guerrero levelled four minutes later and Edison Flores gave Peru a deserved win with an emphatic finish just after the hour.
Uruguay’s unhappy evening ended with a red card for substitute Jonathan Urretaviscaya in the 75th minute.
(Reporting by Rex Gowar; additional reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Peter Rutherford)-Star