PAULINHO DAZ­ZLES, MESSI DE­LIV­ERS

Brazil on brink of qual­i­fy­ing, Ar­gentina re­vive bid with win over Chile

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BRAZIL thrashed Uruguay to move to the brink of the World Cup fi­nals on Thurs­day as Lionel Messi got Ar­gentina’s fal­ter­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign back on track with the only goal to sink Chile.

A su­perb hat-trick from Chin­abased mid­fielder Paulinho pow­ered Brazil to a 4-1 drub­bing of the Uruguayans in Mon­te­v­ideo to leave the five-time world cham­pi­ons all-but-cer­tain of a place at next year’s fi­nals in Rus­sia.

The Brazil­ians now lead the 10team round-robin com­pe­ti­tion by seven points af­ter their lat­est win.

The top four teams in the stand­ings qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally and with only five rounds re­main­ing it would take a freak­ish set of re­sults to deny Brazil.

Uruguay had taken the lead af­ter only nine min­utes when Brazil goal­keeper Alis­son brought down Paris Saint-Ger­main striker Edin­son Ca­vani for a penalty.

Ca­vani got to his feet and drilled the spot-kick be­yond the Brazil­ian goal­keeper to put Uruguay 1-0 up.

But Paulinho pro­duced a thun­der­bolt 10 min­utes later, un­cork­ing a screamer into the top cor­ner from 25 me­tres to level at 1-1.

The mid­fielder then stabbed home Philippe Coutinho’s shot in the 51st minute to make it 2-1.

Barcelona su­per­star Ney­mar added a third with a sublime chip in the 75th minute to ef­fec­tively set­tle the con­test.

Paulinho com­pleted his hat­trick in in­jury time, turn­ing in a low cross with his chest to cap a fine dis­play.

Uruguay, who were miss­ing the sus­pended Luis Suarez, re­main in sec­ond place in the stand­ings.

In Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina had en­tered their clash with Chile des­per­ately need­ing to take all three points to re­vive their cam­paign.

And cap­tain Messi duly de­liv­ered when it mat­tered as Ar­gentina avenged last year’s Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario fi­nal de­feat to the Chileans with a 1-0 win.

Messi stroked home his penalty on 16 min­utes af­ter vet­eran Chile de­fender Jose Fuen­za­l­ida brought down An­gel Di Maria with a clumsy chal­lenge.

Last year, Messi was left dis­traught af­ter miss­ing his penalty in the shootout at the Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario in New York.

But the diminu­tive mae­stro made no mis­take on Thurs­day, drilling his spot-kick be­yond for­mer Barcelona team­mate Clau­dio Bravo to se­cure a vi­tal three points for the two-time world cham­pi­ons.

The win leaves Ar­gentina in third place over­all in the 10-team qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion with 22 points from 13 games.

But the de­feat means two-time reign­ing South Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons Chile are still strug­gling to qual­ify for Rus­sia.

The Chileans re­main out­side the au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion places.

Colom­bia, the 2014 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal­ists, boosted their chances of qual­i­fi­ca­tion with a 1-0 win over Bo­livia in Bar­ran­quilla.

Real Madrid star James Ro­driguez bun­dled in the re­bound from his own late penalty to claim the points.

Ro­driguez rammed home his fin­ish at the sec­ond at­tempt af­ter Bo­livia goal­keeper Car­los Lampe had saved the play­maker’s spot­kick on 83 min­utes.

Un­til Ro­driguez’s late win­ner, it looked as if Bo­livia had done enough to earn a point, de­fend­ing in depth and frus­trat­ing the hosts at ev­ery turn.

But Bo­livia’s luck ran out when Cristian Coim­bra brought down winger Juan Cuadrado with a clumsy chal­lenge to give Ro­driguez his chance for glory.

PIC AP

Brazil’s Paulinho cel­e­brates his hat­trick dur­ing their World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match against Uruguay on Thurs­day. Brazil won 4-1.

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