Neymar scored one goal and set up another as Brazil heaped further misery on Argentina with a 3-0 victory in their World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulinho were also on target to ensure that Brazil maintained their one-point cushion at the top of the South American zone (CONMEBOL) standings.
It was a happy return for the Selecao to the Mineirao stadium, which was also the stage for their worst-ever defeat 15 months ago.
And while nothing will erase the memory of that harsh 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Thursday’s result will likely go some way towards bringing some semblance of closure.
Desperately needing a win to jumpstart their stalled World Cup qualifying campaign, the Albiceleste predictably set their team up to sit back and exploit the hosts on the counterattack.
But Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain were starved of opportunities for most of the first half, as Brazil dictated the terms.
The hosts capitalized on their supremacy just before the half hour mark, when Neymar combined with Coutinho before the latter darted toward the edge of the box and unleashed a trademark curling effort into the top corner of Sergio Romero’s goal.
Argentina looked bereft of ideas, and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi was forced to drift deeper in order to participate as the game progressed.
His Barcelona teammate Neymar scored Brazil’s second goal just before halftime when he ran on to a deft Gabriel Jesus through-ball before coolly slotting it past Romero.
Paulinho then made it 3-0 by firing into the net after a pass from Beijing Guoan’s Renato Augusto.
While Brazil now appear certain to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Argentina are wallowing in sixth place with just 16 points from 11 matches.
The top four teams at the end of the qualifying period will automatically book World Cup places. The fifth-ranked side will earn a playoff spot.
In other CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday, Colombia drew 0-0 at home to Chile, Uruguay beat Ecuador 2-1, Peru overcame Paraguay 4-1 and Venezuela trounced Bolivia 5-0.