Even Tite was moved to dance by the brilliance of Richarlison’s goal and Brazil’s third. For the other World Cup teams, the sight of the 61-year-old boss partaking in the festivities should be unsettling.
Brazil’s 4-1 thrashing of South Korea on Monday, which included a mesmerizing display by the returning Neymar, serves as a warning to the remainder of the competition. The opening 45 minutes were a swirl of dazzling yellow and blue as they demolished the opposition amid a flurry of twists and tricks with Neymar serving as the main puppeteer after a group stage when they were shown flashes of brilliance. He had the contest in the bag as Brazil led 4-0 at halftime; it easily could have been double.
As near as you’ll get to watch a whole half was that opening 45 minutes. Take Richarlison’s third goal, please. He received a South Korea clearance, bounced the ball three times off his head, spun past his defender, and then passed the ball to Marquinhos. He sent a quick pass to Thiago Silva on the edge of the box, who then delivered a cutting-through ball into Richarlison’s path to complete the move. Both center-backs were instrumental in the move and played with dexterity to create a goal worthy of any Brazilian era.
It was Jogo bonito in its 2022 incarnation, with Brazil participating as a single crystal. The trust and understanding were complete for those 45 minutes. Even as Neymar prepared to take a second-half free kick with the striker already engaged in his set-piece routine, it continued into certain portions of the second half. Of course, with that kind of advantage and the disruption of replacements, the intensity diminishes.
This is something Neymar and I have both been waiting for. Brazil has experienced a range of conflicting feelings while in Qatar. The disappointment of losing Danilo and Neymar to injury marred the flawless 2-0 start against Serbia. Then came the 1-0 victory over Switzerland, although it had to be balanced against Alex Sandro’s injury. Following it came the 1-0 loss to Cameroon and the tournament-ending losses for Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus. Casemiro’s impressive efforts against Switzerland and Vinicius Junior and Richarlison’s tenacious play against Serbia were overshadowed by worry and panic over another competition continuing without the Selecao.
Without a Neymar setback, the World Cup wouldn’t be the same. He was hurt and had to watch as Brazil was defeated 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 semifinals. In 2018, he entered the competition suffering from an ankle ailment and made an effort to play through the discomfort. Here, it was the ankle injury suffered against Serbia that brought back unpleasant memories. However, perhaps this catastrophe is a sign that the stars are aligned for Brazil to win its sixth World Cup.
Neymar captivated South Korea, but more than anything, he served as the bond. Whatever the system, whether he was dropping deep, drifting to the wing, or playing up front as a two with Richarlison, he found a way to have an impact. Brazil’s ability to switch between formations seamlessly must be enough to make the opposition queasy.
Neymar added after the match that he was content with his performance but of course, there is still room for improvement. For him, it’s important to grow as a team.
With all the attention on Neymar, it may be unfair to the rest of the team: Paqueta had his best game of the competition by a wide margin, and his goal to give Brazil its fourth was evidence of the confidence he gained. Richarlison was excellent. Vinicius took the opening shot carefully, and Raphinha was there to help. Eder Militao playing right back and Danilo swapping sides to the left created an improvised back four, which forced South Korea to rely heavily on long-range shooting for a prolonged portion of the game. Then there was Casemiro, the player with power over the pulse of the game.
Brazil has constantly emphasized the value of the group in Qatar. Even though it is cliché sports speak, when you see Neymar celebrating his goal from the penalty spot by hugging the injured Alex Telles and then Weverton replacing Alisson for the final 10 minutes — the only member of the squad who hasn’t played yet in this World Cup — you can see manifestations of Tite’s vision for this team.
Then there are the views of the country toward the ailing Pele. The South Korean goalkeeper’s side supporters revealed a tifo early in the second half that had prayers and well wishes for Pele. At halftime, the players held up their sign that simply said, “Pele.” The legend himself had earlier in the day sent the team a good luck message, but all of these flashbacks add to the privilege and stress of being a Brazil player now. Successes and failures are always judged by the legacy of earlier greats who donned the fabled shirt, regardless of the era you are in.
Although the strain of expectation is constant, they filled the jersey in the first half rather than just wearing it. And you believed that Neymar’s comeback and subsequent performance set everything in motion. It was the starting lineup that Brazil supporters had been demanding, and for the 11 on the field, the special occasion and the returning players meant that for 45 minutes they danced and dismantled what might have been a difficult opponent while their manager Tite watched on. He later remarked, “They have a language of dancing,”