Brazil secure World Cup 2018 spot after beating Paraguay

Nick Howson
Philippe Coutinho

Brazil have become the first country outside of the hosts to book a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia after beating Paraguay in Sao Paulo. Goals from Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona forward Neymar and Real Madrid full-back Marcelo secured the five-time winners' eighth victory in a row. This, combined with Peru's win over Uruguay, ensures they can finish no lower than fourth in South American qualifying, with four games to spare.

Neymar also missed a penalty but it mattered little as the team managed by Tite, who are just four points away from progressing as section winners, continued their record of featuring at every World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930. Brazil were famously dumped out of their home World Cup in 2014 when they lost 7-1 in the semi-final to eventual winners Germany, but have tasted defeat just once in their 14 qualifying games this time around.

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Neymar, part of the side who won Olympic gold at Rio 2016, said: "I always think of overcoming my limits. First of all I want to help my team, always, and then I think about pushing the limits, reaching the marks of games and goals. I am very happy for this moment, not only for me, but also my team-mates. We are achieving our goals, which are to win and reach the World Cup as well."

Three automatic berths at Russia 2018 remain up for grabs, with four points separating five teams with four games remaining. Colombia, Uruguay and Chile occupy the places, after defeats for Argentina and Ecuador on matchday 14.

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Key to Brazil securing qualification with a routine win over Paraguay was Liverpool's Coutinho, whose return to form comes at a critical time for his club ahead of the resumption of the domestic season.

Coutinho combined with Paulinho for the opening goal, curling into the bottom corner after 34 minutes to set the hosts on their way. Neymar illuminated what has been a disappointing campaign by his standards so far with a fine solo goal to double the advantage, before Marcelo clipped home the third.

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With just one goal in all competitions in 2017, Coutinho has flattered to deceive at Liverpool. But with Adam Lallana out of the 228th Merseyside derby against Everton on Saturday, the 24-year-old has a crucial role to play in attempting to keep the Reds' Champions League qualification hopes alive.

Jurgen Klopp's side currently occupy the fourth qualifying spot but are just four points ahead of Manchester United, who have two games in hand. Having won three of their last four league games and scored 17 in their last six, Ronald Koeman's Everton travel to Anfield with a realistic chance of claiming their first win at Liverpool since 1999.

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