Even as fans continued to hold a vigil outside the Albert Einstein Hospital, Brazilian football did its best to serve up the perfect tonic for its greatest servant. The performance of Pele helped define the South American country as the guardians of the Beautiful Game and as he lay ill in Sao Paolo having vowed to watch the game, Neymar and co did their best to uphold that reputation.
Certainly the scoreline did not do justice to the mesmerising football that lit up a stadium constructed from 974 drab, scrapped shipping containers. They brought the carnival to Qatar and set the benchmark for England, France and the rest of them to reach if they are seriously to consider themselves contenders for the World Cup trophy itself.
And fittingly perhaps, Pele remains his country’s leading scorer as Neymar’s 13th-minute penalty was his only contribution to the scoresheet, a goal which moves him to 76 international goals, one behind the world’s greatest footballer.
Recently, Brazil have been notoriously slow starters, not scoring in the first half of any of their previous five matches. Against South Korea, Vinicius Jr hit the back of the net with their very first shot on target.
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Raphinha skipped down the right wing to pull the ball back and the Real Madrid striker took his time to pick the only path through five Korean defenders and into the back of the net. Richarlison was upended shortly afterwards for Neymar to get that goal, ignoring the antics of goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to roll the ball into the corner and the match was already over.
From here on in, it was the after-show party. There was ball-juggling from Richarlison, Casemiro adding a one-touch wonder pass to Thiago Silva who picked out Richarlison again who found the back of the net.
Flick followed trick, all of it slick. Vinicius Jr clipped a ball from the left side of the penalty area onto the foot of Lucas Paqueta and his first-time volley made it four. It could easily have been eight.
But then there has always been that generosity of spirit in Brazil’s more exuberant play and were it not for the brilliant goalkeeper of Alisson, South Korea might have had two first-half goals themselves and maybe another couple in the second half.
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Hwang-Hee Chan’s effort was the last of these and might have proved Brazil’s undoing, but Heung-Min Son’s follow-up was blocked by Marquiinhos and the defence showed they are willing to put in the hard work to back up the more flamboyant stuff going on in front of him.
Korea, though, probably deserved to take some sort of memento back with them – if only for their determination to see the match through and not just stand back and applaud at times. The only time Alisson was eventually beaten came in the 77th minute, arguably the goal of the game by Paik Seung-ho when he unleashed his shot from 25 yards.
The Liverpool goalkeeper was promptly substituted, perhaps for his own protection. The inevitable flurry of substitutions had somewhat disrupted the samba rhythm of Brazil’s play and the first-half goal flurry could not be extended.
But with Croatia next up in the quarter-finals, it would be hard to believe there won’t be plenty more of that celebratory dancing by the corner flag to come. And that’s just from their manager Tite!