Montevideo (AFP) – China-based midfielder Paulinho scored a hat-trick as Brazil thrashed Uruguay 4-1 to move to the brink of the World Cup finals here Thursday.

Barcelona superstar Neymar scored Brazil’s other goal with a cheeky lob as the five-time world champions opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the South American qualifying standings.

It was a superb display from Brazil, who have enjoyed a renaissance since new coach Tite took over last year following the sacking of Dunga.

Edinson Cavani fired Uruguay into the lead from the penalty spot after only nine minutes but Paulinho scored twice to put Brazil 2-1 ahead just after half-time.

Neymar’s sublime lob made it 3-1 and then Paulinho bundled in his third in injury time.

The top four teams in the South American standings qualify automatically, with the fifth entering a play-off.

Brazil made a bright start with Neymar and Philippe Coutinho combining after only four minutes to create a golden chance for Roberto Firmino, who was unable to tuck away Liverpool teammate Coutinho’s low cross.

But the Brazilians were rocked moments later when a blunder by Real Madrid defender Marcelo led to a Uruguay penalty.

Marcelo paid the price for an over-ambitious attempt to chest the ball back to Alisson, Cavani darting in to go wide of the Brazilian goalkeeper who clumsily brought down the Paris Saint-Germain striker.

Cavani then got to his feet to bury an emphatic spot-kick hard and low into the bottom left hand corner to make it 1-0 after nine minutes.

Brazil, however, did not have to wait long to draw level, Paulinho making it 1-1 after 19 minutes.

Neymar advanced menacingly down the left flank and picked out Paulinho in space. The midfielder surged forward and, with Uruguay’s defence backing off, uncorked a 25-yard thunderbolt that flew into the top corner.

Paulinho fired Brazil into the lead in the 51st minute, stabbing home a rebound from Coutinho’s shot.

Neymar then scored in the 75th minute to make the game safe before Paulinho chested home in injury time to complete a deserved win.