Brazil played a perfect, nearly samba-rhythm first half against South Korea in their Round of 16 match in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, amassing a 4-0 lead and coasting to a 4-1 win. The match’s result sets a quarterfinal meeting with Croatia.
Korea Republic came out to play their normal high-octane game and, in all fairness, did so and never gave up. Substitute Paik Seung-ho’s 76th-minute wonder strike was a well-deserved farewell for this tough and technically skilled Asian squad who bowed out the same day as Japan, thus ending ended AFC representatives’ participation in the cup.
The South Americans are a very different team with Neymar on the pitch and from the get-go, they were clicking on all cylinders. Tite opted to use Eder Militao as a wingback replacing the two injured players at that position, switched Danilo’s side of the pitch, and rested Fred in favor of Lucas Paqueta in midfield to give the offense a bit more punch. Otherwise, the starters were Brazil’s top eleven in their respective locations.
It was obvious from the opening whistle that the Brazilian’s objective was more than a win, it was to make the statement that they are the team to beat in this World Cup. Neymar himself took it easy, looking to participate in select plays and happy to pass the ball away most of the time instead of holding and dribbling as is his wont. It seemed his own objectives were to play, get back into the swing of directing the team’s offensive traffic, not get hurt, and get off the field as soon as Tite could afford to take him off. His mere presence was enough of a contribution to the cause, though he did play well, and his body’s only needed test, truly, was to see if he could take some basic contact—he passed that test too.
The team’s reaction to Tite’s dictates saw the Selecao in a higher gear from the opening whistle and there was a purr in their performance from the first few minutes that seemed the beginnings of a roar. It didn’t take long for that buzz to turn into a blast as the scores just kept on coming. Vinicius Jr. in the 7th minute, Neymar off a penalty in the 13th minute, Richarlison off probably the prettiest play of the match in the 29th minute, and Lucas Paqueta closing the books at the 36th minute, put an exclamation and endpoint to the match within the opening 36 minutes of the game’s eventual 95 minutes played.
Tite took his stars off the pitch in the second half, bringing even Allison out for the seldom-used Weverton and giving Bremer another cameo. Brazil thus became the only team in Qatar to use all 26 on their squad. The coach now has the luxury of planning for Croatia with a relatively healthy and rested set of starters, something Dalic also made sure of in his match with the Japanese.
At this stage in the cup, Argentina, Holland, England, and France all look very good and Croatia looked like they could give anyone a run for their money. But Brazil still seems the top dog in the tournament. Today, in their dress rehearsal first-half performance they played at another level, one that produced few defensive mistakes, showcased Allison’s prowess in their few slip-ups and showed off their ability to create innumerable scoring chances. The scary thing, though, was that it did not seem like they were playing in their top gear.
Photo: Brazilian keeper Alisson, Shutterstock ID: 1090939127, by Marco Iacobucci Epp