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Brazil trashes Bolivia as Neymar scores 300th goal; CONMEBOL roundup

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NATAL, Brazil (AP) Brazil maintained its momentum in South America’s World Cup qualifiers by thrashing Bolivia 5-0 on Thursday, staying a point behind Uruguay which stayed top after defeating Venezuela.

Elsewhere, Copa America champions Chile sank even lower after losing 3-0 to Ecuador, while Colombia managed to beat Paraguay away 1-0 with a goal in the dying minutes. An Argentina team missing star Lionel Messi managed a draw at Peru.

BRAZIL

“Ole, ole, ole, ole… Tite! Tite!” It had been ages since a Brazil coach had the pleasure of being hailed as a hero by fans. But that happened on Thursday to Adenor Bacchi, universally known as Tite, only three games after getting the job and winning his third consecutive match for Brazil. Nearly all 30,000 supporters at the Arena das Dunas in sunny Natal, in the country’s Northeast, sounded excited about the 55-year-old from the beginning to the end of the hammering of the Bolivians.

The goals were scored by Neymar (10), Philippe Coutinho (25), Filipe Luis (38), Gabriel Jesus (44) and Roberto Firmino (75). Brazil’s goalkeeper Alison barely touched the ball during the entire game.

Asked about the reaction of fans in the post-match press conference, Tite held the tears and looked above as he repeated “thank you.”

Before Tite took over, Brazil wasn’t even among the top four positions in South America’s qualifying standings – each of which is worth an automatic place at the World Cup in Russia. After victories over Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, Brazil is second in the table with 18 points, one behind leaders Uruguay. Bolivia is 9th with seven points.

If Tite’s side beats Venezuela away and Uruguay fails to win at Colombia next week, the now excited Brazilian supporters that had feared the humiliation of not even qualifying for the World Cup will instead see their team in number one position.

“We feel that the atmosphere here has changed for the better,” right-back Dani Alves said at the end of the match, without mentioning Tite’s predecessor Dunga.

Barcelona star Neymar delivered a great performance in the 65 minutes he was on the pitch before he left with a bleeding forehead caused by a Bolivian elbow. He scored the opening goal, repeatedly dribbled through Bolivia’s defense, irritated the opposition but also picked his third yellow card, which suspends him from Tuesday’s clash against Venezuela, in Merida.

That card, however, makes Neymar an almost sure presence in the derby against Argentina in Belo Horizonte on Nov.10.

Neymar’s goal was the 300th of his career, according with the Brazilian Football Confederation. These figures include all those he scored for Brazil, Santos and Barcelona as a professional since 2009. He also surpassed midfielder Zico as the 4th top goalscorer in Brazil’s history. Now Neymar only trails Romario (56), Ronaldo (67) and Pele (95). The Barcelona star is 24 years-old.

The easy win came after some initial difficulties for coach Tite, who lost Real Madrid’s left-winger Marcelo and midfielder Casemiro to injury and Guanghzhou Evergrande’s midfielder Paulinho to suspension. He also took a risk in changing Chelsea winger Willian for Liverpool’s “magician” Coutinho, but the diminutive playmaker was one of the best on the pitch on Thursday.

ARGENTINA

No Lionel Messi meant no party for Argentina at Peru. After leading twice, Argentina conceded a late goal to the hosts which resulted in a draw. New coach Edgardo Bauza struggled to make his midfield more fluent and Manchester City’s striker Sergio Aguero failed to lead the team in Messi’s absence. Argentina’s goals were scored by Funes Mori (15) and Gonzalo Higuain (77). Peru initially equalized through Paolo Guerrero (58) and again with a penalty converted by Christian Cueva. Now Argentina is 5th in the standings with 16 points, the same number of Ecuador and Colombia. The Argentinians are behind in the amount of victories and goal difference. Peru is in 8th position with eight points.

URUGUAY

South American qualifying leader Uruguay was not surprised by last-place Venezuela in Montevideo and won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Only weeks ago Venezuela nearly beat Argentina, but the Uruguayans didn’t offer a chance and won with goals scored by Nicolas Lodeiro (28), Edinson Cavani (46 and 79). Uruguay has 19 points and Venezuela stays last with their two. Now Uruguay will try to hold on to their lead in Colombia next week.

CHILE

Copa America champions Chile had yet another embarrassing result losing 3-0 to Ecuador in Quito. It could have been much more if the hosts had their finishing right in the second half. Now Ecuador has 16 points in third place, five more than Chile, which is 7th. The Chileans are five points behind the spot that would allow them to be in a playoff for a World Cup placement. Antonio Valencia (18), Cristian Ramirez (23) and Felipe Caicedo (46) scored the Ecuadorian goals.

Chile could well need the three points they are seeking from the 0-0 home draw with Bolivia in September. Chile’s federation claimed that Bolivia fielded an ineligible player, defender Nelson Cabrera.

The strangest incident of the evening was in Ecuador’s Enner Valencia being removed in an ambulance after an apparent injury. Local media said police officials could have arrested the Everton player in the end of the match for not paying alimony.

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COLOMBIA

Edwin Cardona scored the 90th minute winner against Paraguay at the Defensores del Chaco stadium, in Asuncion. The result gives a breather to the Colombians, who now have 16 points in fourth place against 12 of the Paraguayans, who will stay in sixth place.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.