Sao Pualo, March 29 (IANS) Goals from Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Marcelo fired Brazil to a 3-0 victory over Paraguay in their World Cup qualifier here as the Selecao extended their winning run to eight matches.
The result at Corinthians Arena here on Tuesday lifted Brazil to 33 points from 14 matches and all but guaranteed the five-time world champions a place at football’s showpiece tournament in Russia next year, reports Xinhua news agency.
Earlier, Argentina’s shaky qualifying campaign continued when they stumbled to a 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz.
The defeat came just hours after Lionel Messi was given a four-match ban by the FIFA disciplinary committee for abusing a linesman in the Albiceleste’s 1-0 victory over Chile last week.
In other matches on Tuesday, Colombia and Chile boosted their chances of a direct qualifying berth by defeating Ecuador and Venezuela respectively.
But the biggest celebrations after the 14th round of South American zone qualifiers were here, where Brazil made light work of a sluggish Paraguay.
Liverpool midfielder Coutinho put the hosts ahead just after the half-hour mark when he combined with Paulinho before unleashing a powerful left shot past Antony Silva.
As expected, Neymar was a target for rough treatment by the Paraguayan defence, particularly in the opening stages.
The Barcelona forward was awarded five free-kicks in the first 35 minutes after being on the receiving end of several harsh challenges.
But he took his revenge after halftime when he ran onto a Marcelo pass in the left channel before calmly dispatching a shot into the bottom right corner.
Marcelo then prodded in Brazil’s third goal after another one-touch assist from Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Paulinho.
The victory continues the Selecao’s unbeaten run under coach Tite, who replaced Dunga after the team’s group-stage elimination from the Copa America last June.
While Brazil can already start packing for Russia, Paraguay’s qualifying chances appear slim as they flounder five points adrift of the automatic qualifying places with four games remaining.
In La Paz, Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Moreno struck either side of halftime as Bolivia heaped misery on Argentina with a shock 2-0 victory.
In Messi’s absence, Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza gave a chance to Atletico Madrid forward Angel Correa, who started in attack alongside Sao Paulo’s Lucas Pratto.
A raft of injuries and suspensions meant that Correa was one of eight changes to the Albiceleste team that defeated Chile in Buenos Aires.
With Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero on the bench, Argentina began on the back foot in the rarefied air of Bolivia’s Andean capital.
The hosts opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark when Arce met Pablo Escobar’s long pass with a header into the bottom-right corner.
Bolivia doubled their lead just after halftime through former Wigan Athletic striker Moreno, who controlled an Enrique Flores cross before rifling a shot past goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
The result left Argentina fifth in the South American zone World Cup qualifying standings with 22 points from 14 matches. Bolivia, who now have 10 points, remained ninth.
Meanwhile, James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado were on target as Colombia improved their chances of an automatic qualification place with a 2-0 win over Ecuador in Quito.
The hosts were forced to play the final half hour with 10 men after Luis Caicedo was shown a second yellow card for a rash tackle.
In Santiago, Esteban Paredes netted a brace and Alexis Sanchez also scored in Chile’s 3-1 victory over Venezuela. West Bromwich Albion forward Salomon Rondon was on the scoresheet for Venezuela.