Brazil danced its way past South Korea and into the World Cup quarterfinals on Monday, sweeping aside its opponent 4-1 in a dazzling performance at Qatar 2022.
This was a real statement of intent from Brazil, as Tite’s side showed why it was considered the favorite to lift the trophy coming into the tournament.
Four first-half goals from Vinicius Jr., Neymar Jr. , Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta ended this match as a contest soon after it had begun, with a combination of shambolic Korean defending and brilliant Brazilian attacking play leading to the most one-sided game of this World Cup so far.
However porous the Korean defense was, the opening 45 minutes were truly a soccer spectacle and encapsulated everything that has made Brazil both feared and admired at the World Cup over the years.
The second half was little more than a procession for Brazil, as its players took their foot off the gas and began conserving their energy for the much sterner test against Croatia that lies ahead on Friday.
Seung-Ho Paik grabbed a consolation goal for Korea 15 minutes from time as his long-range strike took a deflection off Thiago Silva that helped it past Alisson into the far corner.
With the recent news that soccer great Pelé had been admitted to hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s players celebrated the win at full time with a banner paying tribute to the three-time World Cup winner.
Brazil came into this tournament as the favorite to lift the trophy, but had so far failed to live up to that tag.
Tite’s iteration of the Seleçao has always been known for its pragmatism instead of the Joga Bonito style of football displayed by some of the great Brazil teams of old.
Even by his pragmatic standards, however, the team’s three group games were stodgy affairs, with only brief flashes – primarily in the closing stages of the 2-0 win over Serbia – of the flair we have become accustomed to associating with Brazil over the years.
But that pragmatism has made this defense remarkably stingy; before Tite had made nine changes for the third group game against Cameroon, Brazil had not faced a single shot on target in Qatar.
Brazil was also given a huge boost ahead of its match against South Korea with the news that Neymar was fit to play for the first time since suffering an ankle sprain in that opening game against Serbia.
If Brazil’s players for whatever reason did need some added motivation, news that Pelé would be tuning into this game from the hospital in Sao Paulo where he is currently receiving treatment would have certainly provided that.
South Korea, meanwhile, has impressed in reaching the round of 16, coming through a difficult group that included Portugal, Ghana and Uruguay.
But Brazil started this game like it meant business, barely allowing the Koreans a touch of the ball inside the opening five minutes.
That early dominance paid off after just seven minutes thanks to some beautiful footwork from Raphinha that started a flowing Brazil move, which was finished off with unerring accuracy at the far post by Vinicius Jr., who placed the ball perfectly past four Korean players.
Korea’s poor start quickly turned into a nightmare, as Woo-Young Jung mistimed his swing for the ball and instead caught Richarlison on the foot inside the penalty area. It was certainly soft, but there was enough contact for referee Clement Turpin to award the penalty.
Neymar, on his return from injury, made no mistake, nonchalantly strolling up and placing the ball to the goalkeeper’s left.
The goal was Neymar’s 76th for the national team, just one strike away from equaling Pelé as Brazil’s all-time top goalscorer. By scoring Neymar also became just the third Brazilian player in history after Pelé and Ronaldo to score at three different World Cups.
Hee-Chan Hwang did force Alisson into a wonderful one-handed save soon after the penalty, but that was the closest South Korea came to scoring in the first half.
In fact, Turpin did a better job of defending Brazil’s players than any South Korean – at one point the French referee inadvertently blocked off Neymar’s path and forced the Paris Saint-Germain forward to about turn and find a teammate.
With the result already beyond doubt, it was now party time for Brazil. There were two more goals before half time and both of these showcased the very best of Brazilian football.
For the first, Richarlison began playing keepy-uppies with the ball on his forehead, before flicking it round a Korean defender, exchanging passes with Thiago Silva and Marquinhos and slotting the ball past Kim Seung Gyu.
The second came after a flowing Brazil counterattack as Vinicius stood the ball up to the far post for the onrushing Paqueta to volley home.
This game was already long over as a contest, but it was now in danger of turning into a humiliating night for South Korea, if it hadn’t already.
It was without doubt the best and most dominant half of football any team has put together so far at this World Cup, as Brazil finally announced itself as the leading contender to lift the trophy in Qatar.
So delighted was the often stern Tite with his team’s first-half performance, the 61-year-old even joined in with his players’ choreographed dance celebrations after the third goal.
If there was one positive for South Korea at the interval it was that the score was only 4-0 instead of seven or eight, but the second half would merely be an exercise in damage limitation.
Both teams had chances to add to the scoreline but the goalkeepers came out on top for most of the second period, until Paik’s crisp half-volley on 75 minutes finally beating Alisson thanks to a deflection off Silva.
That was to be the last meaningful action of a match that, in truth, had been over since the 30-minute mark.
Brazil and Tite in particular will be delighted with the manner of the victory and with the performance of star man Neymar, who looked sharp as he came through his first match back unscathed.