MONTEVIDEO, Sept 1: Philippe Coutinho shrugged off his transfer disappointment with a goal as Brazil beat Ecuador to guarantee top spot in South America�s 2018 World Cup qualifying race while Chile and Argentina stumbled once more.
Liverpool star Coutinho, who had seen his hopes of a dream move to Barcelona dashed earlier on Thursday as the transfer window slammed shut with no agreement, produced a scintillating second-half display in a 2-0 victory over Ecuador in Porto Alegre.
The 25-year-old has not played for Liverpool this season, officially sidelined by a back problem as the intrigue over a move to the Camp Nou swirled.
However Coutinho showed no sign of injury after coming on for Renato Augusto in the second half, enlivening the hosts after a goalless first 45 minutes before a restless home crowd in Porto Alegre.
New Barcelona signing Paulinho opened the scoring for Brazil, lashing home from close range in the 69th minute after Willian�s corner.
Coutinho then fashioned Brazil�s second, playing Manchester City�s Gabriel Jesus into space behind the Ecuador back four with a lofted pass.
Jesus wrongfooted the covering Ecuador defence with a sublime flick and then headed into the path of Coutinho who finished emphatically.
The win was Brazil�s ninth consecutive qualifying victory and gives the five-time World Cup winners an 11-point cushion with three games remaining, meaning they cannot now be overhauled at the top of the table.
The top four teams in South America�s round-robin competition qualify automatically for next year�s finals in Russia, with the fifth-placed team facing a play-off.
The scramble for automatic qualifying spots promises to go down to the wire, with only two points separating second- placed Colombia (25 points) and fifth-placed Argentina (23 points).
Paraguay also thrust themselves into contention with arguably the performance of the day on Thursday, a 3-0 away win over Chile in Santiago.
The defeat capped a miserable 24 hours for Chile�s unsettled Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez.
Like Coutinho, Sanchez had also seen his hopes of a transfer evaporate on Thursday, with a mooted move to Manchester City stalling. � AFP