It was a game that was basically over as a contest by seven minutes, but that you couldn’t take your eyes off for a second. That was because you might miss Brazil doing something spectacular, audacious or just the sort of moment that makes World Cup highlights for years and has fostered the country’s football lore.
It might have been a Vinicius lift, a Neymar roll or a Raphinha turn – or it could have been many such moments combining for goal after goal after goal, after goal. Qatar certainly got what they wanted in that sense, even if not enough people wanted to watch it given the number of empty seats at Stadium 974. It didn’t take long for this 4-1 win over South Korea to become a replica of the sort of gaudy exhibition match the state had staged well before hosting a World Cup. If you bring them, some people might come. There was at least no risk in restoring Neymar to the starting XI, since this was just another training game. Tite even got to the point where he was giving squad players like sub goalkeeper Weverton a run-out, as if it was a final group game.
There were some more solemn sentiments, mind, as Neymar carried a Pele flag onto the pitch for the players to showcase.
Then Brazil did something they have been threatening to do all World Cup. They fully expressed themselves in a complete exhibition of their talents.
It probably helped that Korea played a much higher line than both Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon, and also were much lower in quality at defending.
That meant that this was at once a show of how good Brazil can be but one that didn’t feel all that relevant to the question of whether they can go and win the World Cup. It was like an interlude before the serious business – which seems all the more harsh given the images of crying Korean fans. There was one point when it looked too boring for them to score a header, given some acrobatics could be tried instead.
We of course knew Brazil could be this good. They had already beaten Korea 5-1 in June. The wonder is about applying these qualities in the most exacting games. They have had nothing even resembling that so far, and may not face such a contest until the semi-finals.
A stroll through the group was followed by this, which has ensured a quarter-final against a Croatia who are canny but often play at walking pace.
Brazil, for their part, did show their own speed in the brief seven minutes when the game was actually alive. Raphinha burst down the right before displaying his smoothness on the run, turning this way and that before playing the ball across goal.
It came to Vinicius, who initially shaped to smash it, before deftly clipping it over Kim Seung Gyu. It was gorgeous. It was the game.
Brazil’s celebration may as well have been a victory dance that early – even if it is something that may increasingly rile opposition. They did feel some Korean aggression moments later, as Richarlison was fouled in the box. Neymar stepped for his first goal of this tournament, and his eighth World Cup goal in all.
Brazil were at that stage – after just 13 minutes – already playing as if this was a recreation of the airport ad before the 1998 World Cup. Why play a simple pass when a lift with the outside of your foot in the other direction would do?
Korea generally couldn’t get close to them. The third goal was at least the sort of moment they could replicate in a proper contest, since it looked like the kind of planned move rehearsed for such moments. In a wondrous one-touch triangle, Marquinhos played it to Thiago Silva who played in Richarlison and the forward finished so smoothly.
It got even more casual for the fourth as Vinicius flicked over another ball, Lucas Paqueta this time firing in.
The game looked like it could become a historic humiliation for Korea at that point but they did rally to give a much more competitive account of themselves in the second half. Alisson was even tested a few times before a brilliant long-range strike from Seung-Ho Paik gave Korea a moment to ensure they do have something to look back at in this game with a little fondness.
Brazil were only ever looking past them – especially if it involved the potential for a trick.
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