By Williams ‘Bantu’ Irubor
Brazil have become the first side to seal their place at the World Cup finals in Russia next year.
Their 3-0 win over Paraguay, along with defeats for Argentina and Uruguay, means they cannot finish lower than fourth in South American qualifying, thereby giving them an automatic place in the finals even if they lose all remaining qualifying matches.
Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho, Barcelona striker Neymar and Real Madrid’s Marcelo scored all three of Brazil’s goals on tuesday night. Neymar also missed a penalty as his side moved nine points clear of second-placed Colombia.
It is Brazil’s eighth straight win under coach Tite.
Paraguay, meanwhile, find themselves five points off the top four with only four games remaining.
Two-time World Cup winners Argentina face a battle to qualify for Russia with their 2-0 defeat to Bolivia leaving them fifth, a point behind Chile.
They will have to do so without forward Lionel Messi, who has been banned for four international matches for directing “insulting words” at an assistant referee during last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.
Uruguay, who were beaten 2-1 by Peru in Lima on Tuesday, are third.
The team that finishes fifth will face the winners of the Oceania group in a two-legged play-off.