We’ve had long-range strikes. Pinpoint free-kicks. Even cheeky scoops. But Richarlison’s goal against South Korea – Brazil’s third in nothing short of a first-half demolition job against the self-sabotaging South Koreans – goes down as the most aesthetically pleasing goal of this World Cup so far. And that’s from a man who scored a scissor kick in the Selecao’s tournament opener.
Amid ghastly defending and positioning from a Korean team whose Qatar adventure collapsed quicker than they could possibly compute, Brazil took their opposition to the cleaners and their performance-level to new heights. And nothing epitomised the purism and panache of Brazilian football than the Tottenham striker’s third goal of the tournament.
As Casemiro looped an innocuous cross into the penalty area, by the standards of the first period the danger level seemed relatively low for South Korea. Headed high but not out, Richarlison scampered back towards the centre of the pitch to try what, frankly, he has made a career out of: launching something out of nothing.
An aerial duel with midfielder Hwang In-beom ensued. Or at least at the start it was a duel. Because in a matter of seconds, a piece of art arose.
With the ball first ricocheting off his back, Richarlison bobbled the ball on his head not once, not twice, but thrice. And so we come to the first of three elements to this majestic Brazilian goal: the showboat.
In Richarlison, this is a player at the height of his powers, playing in a team filled with world-class talent. In contrast to the burden felt in the No 9 role by Gabriel Jesus four years ago in Russia – with the Arsenal striker having left this year’s tournament due to a knee injury – the ex-Everton man thrives with the weight of history and expectation on his shoulders.
It’s unlikely such audaciousness would be tolerated under Antonio Conte at Spurs. Under Tite though, in the famed Selecao yellow, Richarlison flourishes. After the head-ups, he removes Hwang from the equation with a quick right-foot cushion, before turning the ball around the corner to Marquinhos, who is in the penalty area from the remnants of a corner.
To the second element: the finesse. Marquinhos swivels after his first touch, before playing a crisp pass inside to centre back partner Thiago Silva, similarly loitering in uncharted territory. Richarlison, a step of two ahead of just about everyone on the pitch, darts into the penalty area, letting the ball pass him by.
From then on it is unambiguously majestic. Silva – 38 years young, his powers showing no signs of waning – sees the goal play out right before his very eyes, before it’s even happened. With Korea’s backline static and shellshocked, the Chelsea defender passes first-time, decisively, straight into the path of Richarlison.
And so comes to pass the third and final element: the composure. The timing of the whole move – three seconds from Marquinhos’ pass to the ball hitting the back of the net – is to perfection. The pass. The run. Even the subsequent first touch from Richarlison, steaming in on goal. After setting himself with his right, he finishes with his left, nestling the ball into the bottom corner.
A goal in Qatar, made in Brazil. Delightful and dazzling, it encompassed everything - and anything - this Brazil side has to offer heading into the quarter-finals. Not to take away from stunning strikes in this tournament, South Korea’s consolation was a storming left-footed crunch, but nothing sums up the multi-faceted flamboyance of this Brazilian team than their third at Stadium 974.
With confidence soaring, the tournament favourites are flying. All that remains to be said is: best of luck, Croatia.
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