Monday, 06 Feb 2023

Brazil dismantle South Korea to dance into World Cup quarter-finals

Brazil dismantle South Korea to dance into World Cup quarter-finals


Brazil dismantle South Korea to dance into World Cup quarter-finals

The crowd bayed for more, not because they wanted to see the Koreans humiliated, but because how could you possibly want this to end? It was a reminder, perhaps, that while football may have been invented on the public school playing fields of England, it was perfected on the pampas and praias of Brazil. And it was possible to imagine, watching on a hospital television somewhere in Sao Paulo, an 82-year-old cancer patient called Pelé watching this mesmeric blur of yellow shirts and offering a quiet nod of approval.

Does this bring that fabled sixth World Cup within reach? Yes, but only one game closer. The tightly wound fist of Croatia, who await them in the quarter-finals, will offer a different flavour of test entirely to the cavalier South Korea.

That much was clear from the moment Vinícius Júnior opened the scoring with an incredible, improvised practical joke of a finish: a little punt of the toe, Ronaldinho-like in its cheek. It was Raphinha who set up the chance with some brilliant skill on the right. The clock showed seven minutes. Already you got the feeling it was going to be a long evening for South Korea.

The returning Neymar scored with a penalty six minutes later, sending Kim Seung-gyu the wrong way with a little comedy shuffle. Richarlison, who had won the penalty, would go on to score the best goal of the game on 28 minutes: dribbling the ball three times on his head, laying it off, getting it back, and finishing with an affected coolness. Even Tite did a little jig on the touchline this time.

South Korea went for it. What else could they do? Alisson made two good saves from Hwang Hee-chan, but every Korean attack left them ever more vulnerable to the speed of the break, and shortly before half-time one such counter led to a dinked cross from Vinícius Júnior, finished with a scathing finality by Paquetá on the volley. Brazil could conceivably have been six or seven goals up by half-time.

And that was enough, really. Had they simply called off the game and rolled the credits after 45 minutes, everyone would have been happy. And yet due to competition regulations Brazil were still contractually bound to play the second half, a half that unfolded with roughly the same pace and intensity as a money-spinning pre-season friendly in Charlotte. The luckless Son Heung-min curled a shot just wide. Later he would be denied by two brilliant blocks from Marquinhos and a fingertip save from Alisson.

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