It was a quiet and humid night in the capital of Qatar, with the grass feeling somewhat oily to the touch and the stadium jiving and bouncing to the sound of football from a happier and less turbulent era. And while witnessing Brazil’s symphonic destruction of South Korea, there were moments when it was easy to temporarily put aside worldly concerns, indulge in life’s lesser pleasures, and lose oneself in the sheer, raucous delight of football.
Brazil really did play that well. They played the type of football we haven’t seen from them in a long time for the opening 40 minutes as they waltzed and weaved their way to a four-goal lead: special effects football, computer game football, and football so filthy you needed a cigarette and a shower after watching it.
Neymar, Richarlison, Raphinha, Vincius Junior, and Lucas Paquetá blazed little triangles, quadrilaterals, and shapes without names for 40 minutes. These shapes were embellished and gilded with wicked flicks and outrageous stepovers, and they were topped with the choreographed dances they had been practising for months.
Not because the fans wanted to see the Koreans humiliated but rather out of pure enjoyment—how could you possible want something this delightful to end? It served as a possible reminder that although football may have been developed on the playing grounds of English public schools, it was ultimately mastered in Brazil’s pampas and praias. And it was conceivable to picture an 82-year-old cancer patient giving a subdued nod of agreement at this hypnotic swirl of yellow shirts while watching on a hospital television someplace in Sao Paulo.
Following the match, the Brazilian players gathered around a banner reading “PELE!” It was appropriate and moving, courteous and restrained—everything their ridiculous Neymar homage from eight years ago was not. Maybe this is a Brazil team that has taken lessons from its past as well as been inspired by it.
So, will this year be 1982 or 2002? Brazil will not be able to gracefully exit Qatar as lovely losers. If they lose, none of this will mean anything. The tight-lipped Croatia, who will face South Korea in the quarterfinals, will present an altogether different type of challenge to the smug and worn-out South Korea. There are still some concerns regarding the defence, as Paik Seungho managed to score a late consolation and Alisson was forced to make at least two outstanding saves. However, this was not the time for harsh facts. That much was obvious as soon as Vincius Jnior scored the game’s first goal with an amazing, improvised practical joke finish: a quick punt of the toe with one cheeky Ronaldinho-like movement. Raphinha used some excellent skill on the right to build up the opportunity. Seven minutes were shown on the clock.
Richarlison was fouled very quickly, and Neymar, who was returning, netted the penalty, throwing Kim Seung-gyu the wrong way with a little comedic shuffle.
South Korea may have known at that moment that the evening would be prolonged. On minute 28, Richarlison would go on to score the best goal of the game by dribbling the ball three times on his head, laying it off, retrieving it, and finishing coolly. This time, the jig was joined by even coach Tite.
South Korea took the risk. What more were they able to do? However, every Korean attack made them more susceptible to the speed of the break. Just before halftime, one such counter led to a dinked cross from Vincius Jnior, which was finished with a blistering finality by Paquetá on the volley. Despite Alisson’s two strong saves from Hwang Heechan.
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