An attacking quartet of Neymar, Richarlison, Rafinha and Vinicius Jr, brushed aside a tired South Korean side to win their Round of 16 tie and waltz their way into the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup.
The Brazilians came to party. Their fans – a canopy of canaries, sang and danced. Cameras panned to that quintessential Brazilian image – a fan painted in yellow and blue lofting up a World Cup trophy. The cool kids had turned up to Stadium 974 on Tuesday in Doha for Brazil’s Round of 16 match.
The Koreans on their part, had come into this game an already burdened lot. Their coach had spoken about how physically taxing the last-gasp win against Portugal was. He spoke how 72 hours was far less the time it required for his players to regain the energy in their bodies back. He spoke about how Brazil are favorites and that they would have to look at different strategies to stop them. He lastly said that all this didn’t mean they’d give up and that they’d try their best.
The resistance lasted six minutes. And it couldn’t have fallen to a more joyous group. Just the energy differential of the first goal spoke volumes of where this game was going to go. Rafinha surging ahead and brushing off his marker and then cutting the ball back into goal, followed by the ball being trapped by Vinicius Jr should have elicited a calm response by South Korea. But instead, a rush of players, including their goalkeeper followed. Vinicius, in all his stillness, simply looked at the oncoming rush of players, didn’t care an inch and deposited the ball to his far-left corner. First goal out of the way, the Brazilian players rushed to the touchline to dance.
Three minutes later, they found themselves with a penalty. It was the nervous energy of the South Koreans yet again, with their defender trying to clear the ball but instead catching Richarlison’s foot. Neymar stepped up to the spot and converted his penalty – despite Korean keeper Kim Seung-gyu who stayed to the right of his goal and only started to move to the middle once Neymar’s run-up began. It was showmanship in the face of the friendliest doom. Neymar, for his part, saw the antics, and scored regardless.
There are few problems bigger in football than being down 2-0 down to Brazil in a World Cup knockout game. Do you stay back and stem the flow of goals coming your way? Or do you try to claw back, hope for a miracle and keep the game open. The Koreans went with door No 2. Over the next few minutes, it would be apparent just how bad that option was.
The Koreans were tired but were also hamstrung by their tactical choices. Their defensive line kept backing into their own territory and was then quietly followed by the midfield. The result – an open field for Brazil to march into and then a group of disjointed players to dance around. Richarlison scored the Selecao’s third. The move started with a dribbling contest that he won by bouncing the ball on his head thrice before finally bringing it down, passing the ball to Marquinhos – who had deemed it necessary to play as an attacking midfielder at the moment and lived up to his assessment with a pass to Thiago Silva – who had also deemed it necessary to be up front with his defensive partner. Silva then slipped in a pass that slit the Korean defense and landed plum at the feet of Richarlison, who had continued his run. The striker struck with his left footed pass into goal and promptly ran to the touchline to dance with his teammates and then later joined the bench for an impromptu jig with Brazil boss Tite.
The fourth goal followed before the end of the first half and was once again a Korean midfield issue. It’s hard enough to defend against an oncoming Brazilian wave but to put oneself in a four-on-four situation against Vinicius Jr, Richarlison, Rafinha and Neymar is asking for a goal and that is exactly what happened.
Richarlison flew forward with the ball at his feet and passed to Neymar, who quickly deposited the ball to Vinicius Jr. The goalscorer turned provider with a looping dink into the middle of the Korean box. Lucas Paqueta, who had arrived late, got to the ball and scored. He too went to the touchline and danced away. The referee soon blew his whistle and the camera cut to the face of a Korean supporter, face painted red and blue, looking on solemnly as a sea of yellow sang the praises of their team around him. It was indicative of how in over their heads the Koreans were. Tired, short of the mentality for a stage such as this and up against a Brazilian team in the mood for a mauling, the perennial Asia giants were outclassed and how.
The second half saw one Korean goal, a lone pop from far afield that gave their night some consolation. But barring that fleeting moment, the Koreans couldn’t muster much else and quietly exited the World Cup. Brazil only strengthened their credentials as one of the top teams in Qatar and the return of Neymar now sets up a clash against Croatia. A win there and then a possible semi-final against Messi’s Argentina beckons.