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By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Thursday, August 31st, Brazil returned to the pitch in World Cup qualifying action battling Ecuador at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre. Holding true to form, Brazil continued to assert its dominance over the continent, handily beating Ecuador 2-0.

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Thursday’s match was Neymar’s first with the seleção since signing his record-breaking deal with PSG, photo courtesy of CBF.

Entering last night’s match, the seleção had already long booked their place in Russia 2018 with an almost perfect qualification run, only losing once, in their opener to Chile way back in October 2015.

Brazil controlled the action from the opening whistle with two great chances in the first ten minutes. Paulinho deftly dribbled past several Ecuadorian defenders and unleashed a mighty shot, but was denied by a great save from keeper Banguera. Seconds later, Willian took a shot of his own that went just wide.

Brazil continued to dominate possession as the first half wound down but with a disciplined Ecuador focused on solely on shutting down the offense, the club had little to show for their efforts.

Following the scoreless first half, the seleção started the second with more urgency as the club desperately tried to get on the scoreboard.

Eleven minutes into the half, Alves served a twisting long-range pass that found the head of Jesus for the point-blank shot. But, again Banguera was there to deny Brazil with another remarkable block.

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Coutinho celebrates scoring the second goal of the game against Ecuador, photo courtesy of CBF.

Finally, at the 69-minute mark, Brazil would breakthrough when Paulinho, off a corner, found himself in the heart of the Ecuador penalty area and launched a winning shot past a helpless Banguera to take the 1-0 lead.

Brazil would double their lead five minutes later when Coutinho scored off the pass from Jesus for to make the game 2-0.

As the game reached its conclusion, Neymar just missed getting on the scoreboard when he launched a rocket from twenty yards out that sailed just wide.

With the 2-0 win, Brazil sits atop the continent with 36 points and has now clinched first place in the South American qualification. Meanwhile, Ecuador now hold the seventh position and, with only three more qualifying matches left, need a late win streak to make it to Russia 2018.

The top four teams in the South American (CONMEBOL) table automatically qualify for the world cup, while the fifth qualifies for the inter-confederation playoff.

For their next qualifying match, the seleção have a quick turnaround as they travel to Barranquilla to face off against Columbia on Tuesday, September 5th.

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