It doesn't matter how many times they tell you the age of Brazilian fantasy has passed. It doesn't get any easier to believe, at least not deep down.
This is especially so when players as gifted as Kaka and Robinho seem to share the disbelief – and you see the kind of goal that came from a full-back named Maicon last night.
The scepticism of Brazil's principal artists that the beauty had gone appeared so rampant they were apparently intent on producing more pure football in the first 10 minutes than had been seen in the entire tournament.
However, some realities intruded. One was that 105th-world ranked North Korea were not prepared to be either mesmerised or humiliated, at least not at the first sleights of foot. Another was that the Brazilian coach, Dunga, who is seen by many of his compatriots as the nation's No 1 enemy of the beautiful game, was becoming increasingly long-faced with every piece of failed whimsy.
You could see a mind filled with pragmatism most of the time rotating with increasing irritation. The skills were as pretty as you would ever want to see but where was the killing touch that was always part of the armoury of the world's most deadly and rounded player, Pele, or, for that matter, Romario and Bebeto, the striking combination which squeezed out enough goals in 1994 to end Brazil's 24-year failure to claim a fourth World Cup triumph?
Dunga was part of that team which was better at grinding out results than lighting up the sky. He was the dour water carrier who tackled hard and was concerned only with an end product.
It was thus not hard to imagine his frustration as Korean coach Kim Jong-hun packed his defence and then had the exhilaration of seeing his isolated front man Jong Tae-se, who wept with emotion when the national anthems were played, threaten to ambush Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Kim Jong-hun no doubt simply urged more resilience in a half-time team talk fuelled by the amazing fact that the game remained goalless.
Dunga's ruminations, as usual, were centred on the meaning of the team he helped to win back Brazilian success, if not beauty.
Before this World Cup tournament he went over the old winning ground, saying: "The team I was in had something fundamental. It was a group that taught the country how to win. We went without for 24 years, with exceptional people, but we couldn't take that extra step. My generation did it, showing that work comes first.
"Brazil first has to beat Brazil because always on the eve of the competition – not just with me, it was the same with previous coaches – we get a big row about excluded players – and how we play. But if Julio Baptista came in and did well, if Elano came in and did well, if Ramires came in and did well, if Robinho and Luis Fabiano did well, why do I have to change now?"
Something had to, though, in the biting cold of the Johannesburg night.
The first requirement was the acceptance of the need for considerably more directness which, if good enough for Pele and company, should have been no imposition on Dunga's men. Nor was it, so it proved, for Maicon, the man who did so much to drive Internazionale's Champions League victory.
His astonishingly acute shot in the 55th minute, after being set free by Elano, told us two things in the most dramatic terms. One, Dunga's team can be prodded easily into a harder edge of reality. Two, they can go to that place with at least some of the old artistry. The point was underlined exquisitely 17 minutes later when Robinho – a player this night with whom Manchester City fans cannot have felt totally familiar – further lacerated the Koreans with a ball that found Elano running free and shooting with maximum precision.
Soon after, Kaka, who came here weighed down with the pressure of being considered overpriced in, of all places, Madrid, took his leave of the action with a face shining with such happiness he might already have been holding the World Cup.
In the joyful circumstances it was necessary only to remember that North Korea, for all their gallantry, do occupy the furthest margins of the world's best football, and that Spain are still to announce themselves in this tournament, which had come so beautifully to life.
It was a cautionary thought confirmed swiftly enough when Ji Yun-nam ran through to score and bring the Brazilians – and a large part of the football world – into a much surer sense that there is still a huge amount of football to be played – and that Dunga still has a little bit of work to do.Reuse content