DOHA, Qatar — This is why Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup. This is why it has been all along.
Not so much because of its complete and utter annihilation of the best South Korean team in a dozen years on Monday, although there’s plenty to be said about the comprehensive, 4-1, round-of-16 rout at Stadium 974 in the Qatari capital.
It was the way Brazil did it. With joy. With grace. With ease. The Seleção came into the match on the heels of a surprising loss to Cameroon in their final match of the group stage — their first defeat in 17 months — and took it out on the Koreans.
The Cameroon loss “turned on a warning light for us,” captain Thiago Silva said beforehand. Did it ever.
It’s hard to decide which of Monday’s goals was prettiest. Was it Vinícius Júnior’s opener, which came just six minutes in after an absurd bit of dribbling by Raphinha that left Hwang In-beom sitting on his backside? Or Neymar’s audacious penalty kick that so bamboozled Taeguk Warriors keeper Kim Seung-gyu that he didn’t even attempt a dive to save it?
It was almost certainly Richarlison’s, which began with the forward juggling the ball on his head like a seal four times before finishing a give-give-and-go with Marquinhos and Thiago Silva. But Brazil’s fourth, volleyed home off a gorgeous chip by a late-arriving Lucas Paquetá, was close.
Brazil vs. South Korea highlights
All four finishes were decisive, but the team play was even better. The cohesion, the understanding of what every teammate was going to do and where every would-be defender could be exploited was off the charts. There was a surplus of individual skill on display, to be sure. But it all had a purpose.
It was 4-0 with 10 minutes still to play in the first half. The goals came so thick and fast that you almost wished there was a mercy rule like in an under-11 game. Not really, though. It was far too much fun to watch.
Brazil did let the foot off the gas in the second half when the game was already long over.
“Obviously the fact that Brazil had control of the game and had it won allowed them to play in a different way,” South Korea coach Paulo Bento said. His team did get an all-world consolation goal by Paik Seung-ho with 15 minutes left to go, but Brazil was so bored by then that it subbed in Weverton, the third keeper on its roster (seriously), in the 80th minute, almost as if to reinforce how much Paik’s strike didn’t matter.
Only Brazil can do that. “It was good to be able to put him in,” Brazil coach Tite said. “I’m glad we had the opportunity because it makes the whole team happy.”
Brazil is happy and is playing like it. The players literally danced together after each time they scored. It’s just who they are. “They are very young; they have a language of dancing,” said Tite, who joined in himself after Richarlison’s piece of magic. “They laugh and they joke. We were not disrespecting our opponent — that was not the case. We just couldn’t hide it. We tried, but we couldn’t.”
Brazil will face a far sterner test in Friday’s quarterfinal against Croatia (10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), the World Cup runner-up four years ago. That one might not be as beautiful, but this team can win any type of match. “Even having a team that is very offensive,” assistant coach Cesar Sampaio said, “They are proud of defending.”
This is why Brazil is the favorite, and has been all along. Only a fool would bet against them adding a sixth star to their famous yellow jersey on Dec. 18.
“That’s our mission. That’s our dream,” Neymar said. “Now we have to take the next step.”
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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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