Brazil thrashed Uruguay to move to the brink of the World Cup finals on Thursday as Lionel Messi got Argentina's faltering qualification campaign back on track with the only goal to sink Chile.
Hat-trick Paulinho plus a bit of Neymar
A superb hat-trick from China-based midfielder Paulinho powered Brazil to a 4-1 drubbing of the Uruguayans in Montevideo to leave the five-time world champions all-but-certain of a place at next year's finals in Russia.
The Brazilians now lead the 10-team round-robin competition by seven points after their latest win. The top four teams in the standings qualify automatically and with only five rounds remaining, it would take a freakish set of results to deny Brazil.
Cavani penalty quickly cancelled
Uruguay had taken the lead after only nine minutes when Brazil goalkeeper Alisson brought down Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani for a penalty. Cavani got to his feet and drilled the spot-kick beyond the Brazilian goalkeeper to put Uruguay 1-0 up.
But Paulinho produced a thunderbolt 10 minutes later, uncorking a screamer into the top corner from 25 yards to level at 1-1. The midfielder then stabbed home Philippe Coutinho's shot in the 51st minute to make it 2-1.
Barcelona superstar Neymar added a third with a sublime chip in the 75th minute to effectively settle the contest. Paulinho completed his hat-trick in injury time, turning in a low cross with his chest to cap a fine display.
Uruguay, who were missing the suspended Luis Suarez, remain in second place in the standings.
Tite and Godin: contrasting views
"To come here and win by any score is a great result," Brazil coach Tite said afterwards. "Playing in this stadium and beating Uruguay is difficult for anyone."
Uruguay skipper Diego Godin said the final scoreline was not an accurate reflection of the game.
"We trained well, we looked strong," the Atletico Madrid defender said. "It's a bitter result. We had chances. This doesn't reflect the game. But this is a wake-up call."