Brazil roared to an impressive CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying 3-0 defeat of Argentina in their first game back at the Mineirao Stadium since falling 7-1 to Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup.
Given their recent history in the stadium, the hosts started tentatively against their main South American rival as Fernandinho was shown an early yellow card for a foul on Lionel Messi.
And it was Argentina who dominated the early exchanges, with Lucas Biglia forcing a fine stretching save from Alisson off a half-volley from outside of the box on 23 minutes.
But Philippe Coutinho soon had the Mineirao crowd out of their seats with a cracking strike from outside of the box in the 25th. The on-fire Liverpool midfielder received a ball on the left flank, cut inside onto his right foot and blasted his shot past a helpless Sergio Romero to give Brazil a 1-0 lead.
It would take another 20 minutes, but the hosts added their second just before the half to give the 2014 World Cup runners-up all to do in the second period.
And it was Neymar who inflicted the damage — the Barcelona star receiving a slide-rule pass behind the defence from Gabriel Jesus and calmly slotting into Romero’s far corner. The goal marked Neymar’s 50th for his country in just 74 appearances.
Paulinho should have made it 3-0 after the break, however his shot after rounding Romero was easily saved off the line by a back-tracking Pablo Zabaleta.
But the former Tottenham midfielder would indeed grab Brazil’s third just moments later, pouncing onto Renato Augusto’s sliding pull back and firing hard into the net from the middle of the box.
The victory keeps Brazil — energized since new boss Tite’s arrival — atop the CONMEBOL table with 24 points from 11 matches. While Argentina remain in sixth place — one out of a qualifying spot — with 16.
In other action, Uruguay kept pace with Brazil with a 2-1 defeat of Ecuador in Montevideo.
Sebastian Coates gave the hosts the lead in the 12th minute with a bundled finish from a corner kick, using his left leg to guide home from close range.
Felipe Caicedo equalised for Ecuador just before the break — the big Espanyol forward settling a Renato Ibarra pass behind the back line and sliding his left-footed shot into Fernando Muslera’s far post.
But the equilibrium would be short-lived, as Diego Rolan’s goal in first-half stoppage time was all the scoring the Uruguayans would need to stay within a point of Brazil in the table.
Colombia and Chile battled to a 0-0 draw in Radamel Falcao’s first match with the national team in 13 months.
The Monaco man could not provide a spark to the home side in a tense encounter in a game in which Claudio Bravo was forced to depart in the 64th minute with an apparent injury.
The Chile goalkeeper took an early knock after contact with Colombia’s Miguel Borja, then collided with Santiago Arias in the second half and could not continue.
The win jumped the Colombians into third place — one point ahead of Ecuador and Chile — in the table.
Seventh-placed Paraguay were soundly beaten 4-1 by Peru in Asuncion.
Cristian Riveros gave the Paraguayans a 10th-minute lead that lasted into half-time. But a barrage of goals from Christian Ramos, Edison Flores and Christian Cueva preceded an Edgar Benitez own-goal to settle the home side’s fate at the Defensores del Chaco stadium.
Meanwhile, Venezuela collected their first win of qualifying in a 5-1 thrashing of Bolivia at the Estadio Monumental de Maturin in Monagas.
Josef Martinez registered a hat trick on the day as Jacobo Kouffaty and Romulo Otero added the others to complete the Vinotinto rout.