After beating Ecuador on home soil last week, Tite’s Brazil made the trip across the continent now with a view to further strengthening their spot at the head of the race for next year’s tournament – and possibly to fine-tune ahead of a controversial Copa America.
ACABOU! Com gols de Neymar Jr. e Paquetá, #SeleçãoBrasileira derruba jejum histórico em vence o Paraguai fora de casa. Mais um passo dado rumo à Copa do Mundo!
— CBF Futebol (@CBF_Futebol) June 9, 2021
The venue was Estadio Defensores Del Chaco, Paraguay, a country and venue, where the Selecao has not won a match since 1985. Obviously, beating Paraguay at their own den is always a task ask for any team and for which Brazil were looking to break the jinx this time around.
Tite made three changes, with Ederson handed the gloves and Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmono both drafted into the starting XI. Paraguay made a pair of swaps: Junior Alonso and Santiago Arzamendia get the nod to begin from the off.
Paraguay – quarterfinalists at the South Africa 2010 a decade ago, of course – are looking to book their first return since this time around, having missed out on Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018. A surprise victory here could have vaulted them into the top four and keep them firmly on the front foot. But it did not happen.
Brazil started brightly as Neymar struck gold.
Gabriel Jesus made a rickety pass which was buried by Neymar at the near-left-post.
The goal set the tempo for Brazil, who were operating with a 4-2-2-2 formation and it meant there was a wall of four bodies at any given moment, stretched across the pitch with imposing power there.
Neymar wastes no time in giving Brazil the lead! ??
Disastrous start for Paraguay ? pic.twitter.com/vqPPs2EGD8
— Premier Sports ? (@PremierSportsTV) June 9, 2021
Paraguay stuck to a rigid 5-3-2 formation and tried hard to break the momentum of the visitors, but there was some neat work led by Neymar in between the midfield and forward line that never let the visitors take the upper hand even though after the interval the game was neck and neck.
No matter which way you slice it, there’s no denying that Neymar has been in a league of his own in the qualifiers. Entering the match, he’d scored four goals and three assists for Brazil in four games – both highest – and now incremented his figures by one in each category.
Neymar in World Cup Qualifiers:
? 18 Games
⚽️ 11 Goals
?️ 13 Assists
24 G/A in 18 Games
The best international player in the world. pic.twitter.com/i1Q7ghLmIe
— ?????? ???? (@Neymoleque) June 9, 2021
His strike today was not spectacular, but buried the chance nonetheless, something you’d always expect from him, and then created a lovely chance for Paqueta to finish with a flourish.
Neymar is shaping up well for Copa America and will take some stopping from opposition sides.
Neymar has more Goals & Assists for Brazil than both Ronaldinho and Kaká combined.
You may not like him. But you have to respect his talent. pic.twitter.com/pXJOLOY5rP
— AllThingsSeleção ™ (@SelecaoTalk) June 9, 2021
There was a tiny spot of controversy in the first-half when Paraguay felt they should’ve been awarded a penalty for a handball by Brazil’s Alex Sandro, but the referee waved away the shouts and signalled the match to go on.
Replays showed Omar Alderete’s header came off the defender’s upper arm, which is technically not a handball and hence was the right decision. But such incidents have led to a penalty in many other games before.
Fred started the match over Lucas Paqueta and turned in his best performance for Brazil in a while. However, the Manchester United star was taken off at half-time for the booking he received earlier on, with Paqueta replacing him in midfield and netting a late goal.
While the Lyon star, along with Casemiro beside him, dropped back to make life difficult for Paraguay, his attacking instincts suggest he could pop up inside the box and score an odd goal or two.
?Neymar vs Paraguay ??
36 Accurate passes (94.7%)
4 Key passes
Big chances created
13 Duels won
9 Times fouled
Great performance once again ? pic.twitter.com/tdW51Hsd47
— ?????? ???? (@Neymoleque) June 9, 2021
Fred, on the other hand, was crucial to regaining possession and generally dictating Brazil’s tempo. But he lacks consistency, as seen in the last match to Ecuador when he dropped a stinker.
Tite has a decision to make in this part of the midfield.
Even when they took their foot off the pedal in the second-half, Brazil were oddly comfortable and never looked like conceding a goal.
The clean sheet was Brazil’s fifth in their six games and they are off to their best start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since 1969, when they also won their first six games.
Six World Cup qualifiers, six wins.
Brazil puts the finishing touches on a 2-0 win over Paraguay via Lucas Paqueta to stay perfect in CONMEBOL ??
— Sports update. (@Shafaqut94) June 9, 2021
For the second consecutive game in these qualifiers, Paraguay fired a blank. The visitors were cocooned in their own half in the opening stanza as Brazil pressed high. But even in a more balanced second-half, La Albirroja couldn’t find a way past their mighty hosts.
Angel Romero, who’s one of the leading scorers so far with four goals, was once again devoid of service for most of the game, leaving him isolated upfront and with nothing to feed on. As a result of their back-to-back goalless stalemates, Eduardo Berizzo’s side now have the second-least number of goals in the group.
“It was a game where we scored early in the first half and that really settled us down and allowed us to play the ball about and Paraguay had to chase the game and we killed it right at the end,” said defender Marquinhos.
“We knew how hard it is to come here,” Marquinhos said.
“We’re delighted to open up a gap with the second-placed team in the table.”
The result leaves them top of the South American qualifying group for Qatar 2022 with a maximum of 18 points. The top four teams qualify automatically for Qatar and the fifth-place side go into an intercontinental playoff.