Leaders Brazil om Thursday easily defeated Uruguay 4-1 in South American qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, putting the team on the brink of a spot in Qatar next year.
Playing for the first time with supporters in the stands since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brazil were intense from the first minute, much different from the two previous displays against Venezuela and Colombia.
Neymar opened the scoring in the 10th minute after Fred found him in the middle of the Uruguay defense. The star dribbled past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and shot from an acute angle.
It was Neymar’s 70th goal for Brazil, seven short of Pele’s record for the team.
Leeds United’s Raphinha, who started for the first time for Brazil, added a second in the 18th minute from close range.
He also added the third in the 58th minute with a powerful shot from the left of the penalty area.
Veteran Luis Suarez scored Uruguay’s consolation goal in the 77th minute from a free-kick, but Uruguay’s hopes were finally dashed in the 83rd minute when substitute Gabriel Barbosa headed past Muslera after a cross by Neymar, a goal that was allowed after video assistant referee review.
“I can’t explain how happy I am,” 24-year-old Raphinha said. “Tonight could go forever. I will go back focusing on what brought me here; doing a good job at Leeds. I want to come back here.”
Second-placed Argentina beat Peru 1-0 a few hours earlier and are also close to clinching a direct qualifying berth.
Lionel Messi did not have one of his better days, but the hosts created the best opportunities.
Argentina wasted two opportunities to score in the first two minutes of the match and it appeared that they would hammer Peru when Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring with a headed goal in the 43rd minute after a cross from the right by Nahuel Molina.
However, the second half featured a more intense Peru, who had a golden opportunity to equalize from the penalty spot in the 65th minute after a foul by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, but veteran Yoshimar Yotun hit the bar.
Ecuador remain in third place after a 0-0 draw in Colombia, who are in fourth spot.
Chile rose to sixth place after a 3-0 home win against bottom-of-the-table Venezuela.
Bolivia beat Paraguay 4-0 in La Paz, causing their rivals to fire coach Eduardo Berizzo after the match.
The top four teams earn direct entry to the finals next year. The fifth-placed team advance to an intercontinental playoff.
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