Brazil preserved their perfect record in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying after Richarlison and Neymar's second-half strikes broke Ecuador's stubborn resistance in a 2-0 victory. Richarlison and Neymar combined for the decisive 65th-minute goal as Brazil made it five wins from five matches on the road to Qatar 2022 in Porto Alegre on Friday.
With all eyes on the upcoming Copa America, due to start in Brazil on June 13 amid reports some of the Selecao players do not want to compete, Richarlison broke the deadlock with a powerful strike behind closed doors.
Neymar sealed the win with a re-taken penalty in the 94th minute to send Tite's men four points clear atop the qualifying standings. It was a clash between the two top-scoring teams in World Cup qualifying, Ecuador having scored 13 goals through four rounds, while Brazil had found the back of the net on 12 occasions.
Brazil toil in first-half
But chances were few and far between, especially in the first half, with Ecuador looking comfortable away from home amid Brazil's subdued play. Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa – who had forced goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez into a routine save earlier in the half – did put the ball in the back of the net for Brazil three minutes before half-time but it was ruled out for offside.
While Brazil – playing for the first time since November's 2-0 win in Uruguay – were largely toothless in the opening 45 minutes, they did not face a shot on target for the third occasion in their five qualifying games.
Neymar, the subject of a scary incident prior to kick-off as two overexcited fans charged at the Paris Saint-Germain star and attempted to steal his shoes, continued to be in the thick of the action with a couple of strikes.
Richarlison provides the breakthrough
He was the architect for the opening goal just past the hour mark, playing in Richarlison, whose shot proved too hot to handle for Dominguez at the front post.
That goal brought Brazil to life as Gabigol had two good chances to double the lead for the Selecao.
With 18 minutes remaining, Gabigol got on the end of Gabriel Jesus' reverse pass but Dominguez was quick off his line to thwart the Flamengo star.
Gabigol was unable to divert his header on target three minutes later after Richarlison did superbly well to keep the ball in play.
Brazil were awarded a penalty following a VAR review at the death and while Neymar's initial penalty was saved by Dominguez in the first minute of stoppage time, an encroachment spared the star's blushes as he made no mistake a second time around.
What does it mean? Tite's men stay hot
Ahead of their Copa America title defence, Brazil extended their winning streak to six matches. The South American powerhouse have only conceded two goals in that period, keeping five clean sheets. Brazil have not lost since their 1-0 friendly defeat to rivals Argentina in November 2019.
Richarlison was on the scoresheet again for Brazil, having netted the country's last two goals in qualifying before Neymar's sealer. In the current campaign, Richarlison has netted three times.
Gabigol wasteful starting return
While Gabigol left the field smiling after sharing an embrace with head coach Tite, it felt like a missed opportunity for the former Inter forward. Gabigol was handed his first international start since the Copa America Centenario – a 1-0 loss to Peru five years ago. The 24-year-old proved wasteful with two particularly good chances in the second half.
Brazil travel to Paraguay on Tuesday before the Copa America gets underway, while Ecuador play host to Peru on the same day.