December 6 – Brazil danced their way to a 4-1 victory against South Korea and a last-eight encounter with Croatia after a barnstorming first half against the Asian team.
After 13 minutes, Brazil’s round of 16 match with South Korea was no longer a contest.
It was almost inevitable that it was Neymar, who converted a penalty for the second goal. The spot-kick was questionable, but South Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gyu fell to his knees as Neymar dispatched the ball with insouciance and a mundane finality. He did not salute Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro when he scored his first goal at this World Cup.
Instead, this was Brazil supreme, almost trolling their opponents, and they celebrated with a funky rondo, the dance routine they had applied minutes earlier for Vinicius’s brilliant opening goal.
The joyous, double rondo epitomised Brazil’s team spirit and relief. The five-time world champion was under pressure after a disappointing group stage with two victories, an insipid defeat to Cameroon, and an all-concerning injury to Neymar.
Brazil coach Tite snapped at journalists, calling Gabriel Jesus’ injury “evil lies”. It was off-character for a man, who calls himself a humanist and is among the more eloquent and pensive coaches on the circuit.
Tite tends to be balanced, but the Brazil role is a pressure cooker. The unrelenting 24/7 media and the idea that everything but a World Cup victory is a failure were destabilising the cool Tite, but then, on a perfect night for Brazil, his team and lodestar Neymar responded with bravura, dispelling any doubts that this Brazil is not a contender for the ultimate prize.
Even Tite was dancing after Brazil’s third goal – and he had every reason to: Richarlison outdid his spectacular scissors kick of the Serbia match. Here he was on the end of a mesmerising team move that he had initiated by heading the ball repeatedly. In a flash of an eye, Brazil carved open the Korean defence and the striker sidefooted the ball home.
If it all sounds superlative, that’s because it simply was. This was the Brazil of yesteryear, the Brazil that everyone had longed for in those laboured group-stage outings. There was an exuberance to this team and its dancing, repeated a fourth time when Lucas Paqueta got the South American’s fourth. He kneeled and prayed in celebrations as well.
Tite was beaming. The West Ham United player was the key to Brazil’s balance, the link between attack and midfield, allowing Tite to field Richarlison, two wingers, Neymar and just one defensive midfielder with Casemiro in the number six role. Paqueta, again, nurtured a good understanding with Neymar.
It was the perfect night for Brazil with Neymar spearheading the team. Vinicius Jr, Neymar’s heir, was once again superb, scoring and providing. With a number of superb saves, Alisson almost kept a clean sheet, but Paik Seungho got a deserved consolation goal for the Asians.
Tite and Brazil understand that in the strictest sense of the word this was not a test. It was all too easy, the game early on reduced it to a training session. After the break, Tite’s team dropped its intensity and even then the opponent conceded chance after chance. It, however, mattered no longer. Asia’s World Cup dreams were over and the Brazilians marched on.
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