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Coutinho inspires Brazil to 9th straight World Cup qualifying win

Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho struck second-half goals as the Brazilian football team won its ninth consecutive World Cup qualifier with a 2-0 victory over Ecuador.

Paulinho found himself unmarked following a Willian corner and thumped in from close range before second-half substitute Coutinho combined with Gabriel Jesus to double the hosts’ lead on Thursday, reports Xinhua news agency.

The result at Gremio Arena saw Brazil move to 36 points in the 10-team South American zone standings, 11 points clear of second-placed Colombia. Ecuador stayed on 20 points, three points shy of the automatic qualification places.

Brazil’s talismanic forward Neymar had a frustrating night in his first international match since completing a world record 222 million-euro ($261 million) move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona. The 25-year-old rarely threatened Ecuador’s defence and his best chance came minutes before the end when a long-range effort flew just wide.

As expected, Coutinho began on the bench, having not played for Liverpool for almost a month amid speculation linking him with Barcelona.

After a first half in which Brazil looked in control but lacked inspiration, the playmaker was introduced on the hour mark and he immediately changed the course of the match.

Suddenly, the Selecao looked more composed going forward and in the 69th minute the hosts got their reward when Willian’s corner fell to Paulinho, who appeared to have all the time in the world to blast his shot in from the edge of the six-yard box.

Minutes later, Coutinho glided past two defenders and lofted a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City forward then flicked the ball over his opponent’s head and headed a pass back to Coutinho who guided a first-time shot past goalkeeper Maximo Banguera.

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