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Chile aims to end Argentina's recovery

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Tite's centre-forward dilemma

Brazil
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 By Tim Vickery

Brazil through to 2018 World Cup while Uruguay and Argentina fret

In stoppage time of the last game of the round, Uruguay captain Diego Godin headed a free kick against the Peruvian bar. It came down, from the Uruguayan point of view, on the wrong side of the line. They lost 2-1, and as a result of that, Brazil became the first team to qualify for Russia 2018.

Earlier in the evening Brazil had beaten Paraguay 3-0. It was their eighth consecutive victory, all of them since coach Tite took command of a struggling side.

Paraguay did not make it easy for them in Sao Paulo. They sought to stay compact and break at pace -- and had the first clear chance when a loose pass out of defence from Miranda was intercepted. Bruno Valdez slipped Derlis Gonzalez one on one with the keeper, but he scuffed his shot horribly wide.

In a tight first half, the goal that broke the deadlock said plenty about how Brazil have improved so quickly. Tite has them sufficiently compact to pass the ball at pace. He instilled them with confidence and the outcome is a tactically well-drilled side with collective play and individual talent.

BrazilBrazil
ParaguayParaguay
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Phillippe Coutinho cut in from the left. Crucially, his Liverpool teammate Roberto Firmino moved out to the left flank, dragging centre-back Dario Veron with him. It was this that opened the hole in the Paraguayan defence. Coutinho played forward to Paulinho, who gave him a backheeled return ball infield, and from the edge of the area Coutinho curled a wonderful left foot shot inside the far post.

Paraguay were in desperate need of picking up points. It was clear, then, that the game would open up in the second half. There was more space on the field, and in Neymar, Brazil had the man to take advantage. He soon won a penalty, well saved by Anthony Silva. There may have been some poetic justice in this -- the award seemed harsh, in which Rodrigo Rojas appeared to make a good tackle.

But poetic justice worked the other way soon afterwards. Neymar picked up the ball on the left flank deep inside his own half. Full-back Bruno Valdez thought he had him covered, but Neymar found a tiny piece of space along the touchline and made a burst, taking two defenders out of the game, before cutting in on goal. He dribbled inside Paulo Da Silva, but his shot probably would not have beaten the keeper without a deflection off Cristian Riveros. The move deserved a goal.

The last goal, five minutes before the end, was just as special in a collective sense. Marcelo and Coutinho combined, planted the ball to Paulinho who had once again broken forward into the area, and he came up with another backheel flick, allowing Marcelo, who had continued his run from left-back, to beat the keeper with a subtle chip.

Brazil now need to guard against an excess of euphoria, a lovely problem to have for a proud footballing nation who just a few months back were fretting at the prospect of missing out on the World Cup.

Brazil striker Neymar
Paraguay could not stop Neymar who has been in terrific form for Brazil in the last two qualifiers.

And now it is Uruguay who might be starting to fret. A third consecutive defeat drops them to third in the table, with some tricky games ahead. Coach Oscar Washington Tabarez and his men are not looking to win points for style. They look to choose the moment to press, force an error from the opposition and take advantage. The worrying aspect of their play is that they are starting to let in goals -- they have conceded 12 in the last five games.

Returning from suspension, Luis Suarez helped set up Carlos Sanchez to volley them ahead in Lima. But Peru, on perhaps their last chance, were not going to give up without a fight. Centre forward Paolo Guerrero is now 33, and will surely not have another opportunity to play in a World Cup. He showed speed and strength to hold off Godin and latch on to excellent long pass from Yosimar Yotun before beating keeper Fernando Muslera at his near post.

Guerrero's penalty area presence was vital for the winner, too. He chested a cross from the right down to Edinson Flores, who lashed in left footed past Muslera.

Uruguay were perhaps unlucky when substitute Jonathan Urreteviscaya picked up a second yellow card and was sent off. He appeared to be in with a great chance of setting up the equaliser, but he had brought the ball down with his arm. It seemed inadvertent, and the card was harsh. But soon after he was introduced, Urreteviscaya had committed a last man foul on Guerrero, and had been lucky to receive just a yellow on the occasion.

Bright and committed, Peru's performance was encouraging, and hauls them into contention for the play-off place. They will have to make up a four-point deficit on Argentina. The teams meet in October, so Peru will aim to win three points then -- and hope that Uruguay can do them a favour when they host the Argentines in what promises to be a dramatic next round.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

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