NELSON ALMEIDA/Getty Images
Brazil clinched first place in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 win over Ecuador Thursday night in Porto Alegre.
Although the squad had already qualified for Russia, it continued its run through South America with Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho leading the way with one goal apiece.
The victory gives Brazil nine wins in nine qualifying matches under manager Tite, while Ecuador has suffered three straight losses.
Brazil is now 11 points clear of second-place Colombia in the CONMEBOL table with 36 points in 15 matches.
Meanwhile, Ecuador is right in the thick of the race to get one of the spots in Russia. The team remains in seventh place with 20 points, but only five points separate seventh and second place. Four teams automatically qualify for the World Cup while fifth place goes to a play-off, and Ecuador sits just three points back of Chile in fourth place.
The underdogs fought well Thursday, even if the final score made it seem like a one-sided battle. Even with plenty of offensive talent on one side, it was scoreless for the first two-thirds of the contest.
Brazil controlled the action early, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Selecao Brasileira was disappointed by the early effort:
Seleção Brasileira @BrazilStat
A very uninspiring performance. Brazil is not playing as a real team, a real unit – unlike previous performances with Tite.
Brazil’s defense was nearly flawless in the first half, keeping Ecuador out of the net to send the teams into the break locked in a scoreless draw.
There were certainly more chances in the second half, including Gabriel Jesus coming especially close, but the hosts struggled to break through with an opening score.
The go-ahead goal finally came in the 69th minute as a Willian corner ended up reaching Paulinho, who fired the ball into the top of the net.
BeIn Sports provided a look at the tie-breaking goal:
beIN SPORTS USA @beINSPORTSUSA
And it’s @FCBarcelona new recruit @paulinhop8 who breaks the deadlock! #BRAECU 🇧🇷🇪🇨 https://t.co/mTCMks5lYp
A few minutes later, Philippe Coutinho doubled the lead off a beautiful volley and header assist from Jesus.
beIN SPORTS USA @beINSPORTSUSA
@gabrieljesus33 takes one for the team to set up fresh-from-the-chiropractor @Phil_Coutinho with an easy finish. #BRAECU https://t.co/U6RPic1Ua0
Coutinho had only come on in the 59th minute, but he was an impact sub in the win.
Meanwhile, Jesus continued his contributions on this elite squad, via OptaJavier:
9 – Gabriel Jesús has had a hand in nine goals in seven games for #Brazil in this WC Qualifying campaign: 5 goals, 4 assists. Jewel.
Ecuador simply couldn’t generate enough offense to keep up on the scoresheet. The visitors controlled only 25 percent of possession and got their first and only shot on goal in the 91st minute off a free kick.
Maximo Banguera was outstanding in net for Ecuador with seven saves, some of them extremely difficult, but he couldn’t do enough to keep his team in the match.
The schedule gets tougher for Brazil with a road match against Colombia on Tuesday, although the pressure is clearly on the hosts to get a positive result.
Ecuador has a chance at three points in its next match Tuesday, hosting Peru at Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa.
Note: All match statistics courtesy of ESPNFC.