It was a quiet, sultry night in Qatar’s capital: the grass a little greasy to the touch, the stadium bouncing and shaking, the football of a brighter, less troubled world. And there were times when, watching Brazil’s symphonic demolition of South Korea, it was briefly possible to leave earthly cares behind, partake in life’s simpler pleasures, lose yourself in the pure and tumultuous joy of football.
Brazil was really so good. For the first 40 minutes, as they waltzed and fought their way to a four-goal lead, they played the kind of football they hadn’t seen in many years: special effects football, football on computer, football so dirty you needed a cigarette and a shower after watching it.
For 40 minutes, Neymar and Richarlison and Raphinha and Vinícius Júnior and Lucas Paquetá blazed little triangles, quadrilaterals, shapes that had no name yet, embroidered and golden shapes of mean strokes and delirious strides, crowned choreographed dances that they prepared months in advance.
The crowd was asking for more, not because they wanted to see the Koreans humiliated, but because how could anyone want something so funny to end? It was a reminder, perhaps, that while football may have been invented on the public school playing fields of England, it was perfected in the pampas and beaches from Brazil. And it was possible to imagine, watching on a hospital television somewhere in Sao Paulo, an 82-year-old cancer patient offering a silent nod of approval to this hypnotic whirlwind of yellow shirts.
Then the Brazilian players gathered a banner with one word: “PELE! It was respectful and restrained, appropriate and moving: everything, in other words, what their absurd tribute to Neymar eight years ago was not. Perhaps this is a Brazilian team that is not only inspired by its history, but also learned from it.
And so, will it be 2002 or 1982? There will be no grace for Brazil to leave Qatar as losers. None of this means anything unless they win. The clenched fist of Croatia, which awaits them in the quarter-finals, will offer a whole new flavor of test to the rider and exhausted from South Korea. There remains a qualm or two about the defense, with Paik Seung-ho claiming late consolation and Alisson expected to make at least two wonderful saves. But really, now was not the time for cold realities.
That was clear from the moment Vinícius Júnior opened the scoring with an incredible improvised late-game prank: a small kick with his foot, like Ronaldinho in the cheek. It was Raphinha who created the chance with brilliant skill down the right. The clock showed seven minutes.
Almost immediately, Richarlison was fouled and Neymar’s return scored the penalty, sending Kim Seung-gyu the wrong way with a comical little reshuffle.
That’s when South Korea may have suspected it was going to be a long night. Richarlison then scored the goal pick in the 28th minute: dribbling the ball three times over his head, releasing it, collecting it and finishing with affected composure. Even Coach Tite joined in the jig this time.
South Korea went there. What else could they do? Alisson made two good saves from Hwang Hee-chan, but each Korean attack made them even more vulnerable at the speed of the break, and shortly before half-time one of those counters led to a dinked cross from Vinícius Júnior , ended with a scathing finality. by Paquetá on the fly.
That was enough, really. If they had canceled the match after 45 minutes, everyone would have been happy. And yet, due to competition rules, Brazil were still contractually bound to play the second half, a half that proceeded at about the same pace and with the same intensity as a friendly match of pre-season in Charlotte. And ultimately, the Koreans deserved something, even if it was just the footballing equivalent of a party bag.
Paik’s goal from long range after a Casemiro free-kick was a heartening memory for the Korean fans, who have been so memorable in this tournament.
And so the Asian World Cup lost its last Asian team. South Korea certainly had their moments in this tournament, not least their spectacular win over Portugal, and especially those minutes after the end when the whole team hunched around a small cell phone screen to watch the climax of the game against Uruguay. The bulk of their squad probably have one more World Cup – Son Heung-min will be 33 in 2026 – and in striker Cho Gue-sung they have unearthed a real talent who could soon sign for Celtic.
But it was Brazil’s night, even if it wasn’t just theirs. Standing in the empty stands, his bald features framing a thin smile, the president of Fifa Gianni Infantino contemplated the spectacle he had created.
In a way, it was the kind of unforgettable entertainment content he had always dreamed of: the moment when all the awkward moral questions and irritating Western provocateurs could simply melt away, buried under an avalanche of Brazilian spice. A perfectly singing monster is still a monster. So yes, it was Brazil’s triumph. But in a dark way, it was also Qatar’s.
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