SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil is celebrating as the first South American team to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar — with several matches in hand and more than a year before the tournament begins.
Neymar set up Lucas Paquetá in the 72nd minute to give Brazil a 1-0 win against Colombia in Sao Paulo. Thursday’s victory was the Seleção’s 11th in 12 matches of qualifiers, putting it 18 points ahead of Chile and Colombia, fourth and fifth places with 16 points.
Chile and Colombia can add only 15 points from its five remaining games. The top four teams in South America earn direct entry to the World Cup.
Celebrations at the NeoQuimica Arena were discreet on the pitch after a hard-fought match with little inspiration from both sides. But they gained traction in the Brazil dressing room as players waved a Qatari flag and chanted, with FIFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL joining to congratulate the first team from the region to secure its place in next year’s World Cup.
Host Qatar, Germany and Denmark had already done that.
“This is the result of great work we started way back,” Paquetá said after the match in Sao Paulo which provided few opportunities for both teams.
“I cried of happiness (after scoring) because of this moment I am living at the national team and at my club Lyon. This came from a lot of joy, joy for this work well done,” Paquetá added.
His goal came after Marquinhos found Neymar in the middle of the Colombia defense.
Neymar quickly passed to Paquetá, who beat goalkeeper David Ospina with a low crossed shot that ended in the right corner of the Colombian goal. Ospina’s touch was not enough to stop the ball from going in. It was one of the few opportunities created by Brazil during the match.
Brazil will miss midfielder Casemiro in Tuesday’s match at Argentina due to a yellow card. Fabinho is his likely replacement.
Asked about the team’s future now that the spot in Qatar is sealed, Brazil coach Tite said he will seek “solidity, creativity, goals and victories” until the World Cup begins.
“That is excellency. That is what moves us. We need to get as close to that as we can,” Tite said in a press conference. “We will celebrate a little tomorrow to mark this moment.”
Brazil sealed its qualification by giving Tite his 50th win along with 12 draws and five defeats. Tite took over Brazil in the middle of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. His team was knocked out by Belgium 2-1 in the quarterfinals in Russia.
Also on Thursday, third-place Ecuador beat last-place Venezuela 1-0 with a goal by Piero Hincapié. Chile had a key 1-0 victory at Paraguay thanks to an own goal by Antony Silva after a corner kick. And Peru defeated Bolivia 3-0, with goals by Gianluca Lapadula, Christian Cueva and Sergio Peña.
Uruguay will host second-place Argentina, with 25 points, in a match on Friday.
Brazil leads with 34 points. Its match with Argentina in September was bizarrely suspended after seven minutes of play because of concerns from authorities over breaches of COVID-19 protocols. FIFA has not yet decided whether it will be replayed.
Peru is now seventh with 14 points, followed by Paraguay and Bolivia, both with 12 points and still some hope to qualify. Venezuela has 7 points.
The fifth-place team in South American qualifiers goes into an intercontinental playoff for a spot in Qatar.