When the solemn moment comes to award a goal of the tournament at this World Cup Brazil will surely have some contenders.
Three candidates came in their irresistible first half against a disintegrating South Korea, and the initial reaction from neutrals around the world was delight. Vinicius Junior’s sublime finish was first, and you would have to be a Christmas World Cup ultra-Scrooge to find anything wrong in the way Brazil celebrated it, by breaking out the choreography.
The merry dance of Vini Jr and friends seemed appropriate after his goal in the opening minutes. The problem was when Brazil did it again. Then again. And again.
Inside the stadium it was being lapped up. The deafening post-goal music could not obscure the thrill of seeing Brazil in full flight, and the variety of choreography on offer felt like part of the spectacle.
One celebration seemed a loose tribute to Bebeto’s cradle-rocking in 1994, a trailblazer of the modern celebratory artform. Another involved Brazil’s manager Tite, who looked like an unscrupulous small business owner letting his hair down briefly after three beers at the office party.
Still, there was also a nagging sense that this might be construed as unnecessary given the obvious paucity of their opponents. But no big deal, right? If you ever find yourself asking a rhetorical question like that, “who could possibly object to this?” you can un-rhetorical it with two simple words: Roy Keane.
To nobody’s surprise Keane thought Brazil were guilty of taking the mickey. "I think it's disrespectful dancing like that every time they score,” he said during punditry duties for ITV Sport. “I don't mind the first jig, or whatever it was, for the first goal, but not every time. It's disrespectful. Even their manager gets involved. I don't like it.
"I can't believe what I'm watching. I've never seen so much dancing. It's like watching Strictly. Brazil are fantastic but South Korea? My goodness.”
There was little sympathy for Keane’s usual fire and brimstone from Brazil manager Tite. “There are always people who are evil who will say that it’s disrespectful,” he said. “It was not to diminish or look down on our opponents.”
It must be noted that there was no obvious objection during the match from anyone connected with South Korea. The closest they came to the usual reaction to perceived on-pitch disrespect – a grievous foul – was Jung woo-young arriving too late to challenge for the ball close to the end of the first half, earning a yellow card.
The Brazil manager said he had simply seen his players dancing and told them that he wanted to learn their routines. He also said he had attempted to obscure his own involvement after the goal, but it was impossible.
“I know there’s always a camera there, but I didn’t want it to be misinterpreted. It was just a sense of happiness for the goal scored, for the team, for the performances.
“Not to be disrespectful to the team or [South Korea manager] Paulo Bento, who I have great respect for. We just couldn’t hide our joy, we tried to, but we couldn’t.”.
It must also be noted that such fancy footwork does not just happen by chance. “We rehearse that celebration together with [the] coach in the hotel and I am happy we had a chance to use it,” said Richarlison.
After the match he comforted a tearful Son Heung-min. “Football is like that,” Richarlison added. “One is going to win. One is going to lose. I wish him all the best because we need him at Tottenham.”
Perhaps he can teach him some salsa steps to cheer him up when back in chilly London? Just don’t tell Roy Keane.
The four goals which will have terrified their rivals
Away from the ornate dancing celebrations, the joga bonito and the showboating in airports, the best Brazilian sides have been killers. Neymar and friends had fun on Tuesday night but also sent a ruthless statement to the rest of the World Cup: nobody scores goals like these. For South Korea, it was less like the jolly trainer adverts of old and more like a snuff film.
Every goal Brazil scored in their fever dream of a first half was special, a fitting send off to stadio del shipping container (aka Stadium 974), which hosted its last game of this tournament and will be the only Qatari newbuild to live long in the memory.
Goal one (Vinicius Jr 7mins)
Raphinha, decent for Leeds last season, is now apparently the second coming of Jairzinho. He races down South Korea’s wilting left flank, using pace and sexy feet to find space close to the byline. Looking up, he tries to find Neymar but it drops instead to Vinicius Jr beyond the far post.
When the ball lands at Vini’s feet it is immediately ominous. Here is one of the best young players in the world with a thick two seconds to think about how he wishes to proceed. A trap, a subtle spin and he sizes up the five opponents ahead of him.
Calculating movement and moment like a supercomputer, he devises a beautiful dink of a finish which correctly parses the shapes, physics and timing of the obstacles between his ball and their goal. It goes in and is fantastic. It is only the seventh minute, so perhaps there is no need for the two-part director’s cut of a goal celebration.
Goal two (Neymar pen 13mins)
In 2018 Richarlison told Chris Bascombe that he idolised Neymar so much when growing up he used to copy his haircuts. It is cute that this is still happening, and especially pleasing for Peroxide Jr to win a penalty for his hero turned team-mate.
The Tottenham striker gets just in front of Kim Moon-hwan as he attempts to clear, which makes it look as if he has been hacked down senselessly. Raphinha hides the ball behind his back while facing down goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu. He hands it to Neymar who gives it a little peck.
It is a maddening git of a penalty, a stuttering run-up, a won battle of wits over a goalkeeper so spooked he barely moves, then the bravura non-event of his rolled-in shot.
In their three group stage games it took Brazil on average 73 minutes to open the scoring. With Neymar back it is 2-0 after just 13.
Goal three (Richarlison 29mins)
Some questions by now about the standard of Korean defending, because few coaching manuals suggest allowing Brazilian strikers to juggle the ball with their head for as long as they fancy. Richarlison is allowed to do this, then some kick-ups before finding Marquinhos, whose one touch pass to Thiago Silva, presumably bored by defending, is unerring.
Silva’s pass to the still-roving Richarlison is even better. He opens his body exactly as the coaching manuals suggest and strokes the ball into the bottom corner. A team goal so good it made me laugh out loud. Even Tite joins in with the celebrations, despite looking like the stern deputy chief of police in a failing American city.
Goal four (Lucas Paqueta 36min)
A scary break from Neymar, whose pass finds Vini Jr at the perfect moment. Another obscene scoop of the ball into Lucas Paqueta, the least obvious but best option available, as he sized up the the box.
Paqueta’s delicate side-footed volley is a thing of beauty, as is Neymar’s decoy run into space beyond him, which allowed the West Ham player to crash the party from deep.
Another involved celebration, and it feels as if Brazil’s players have spent more time doing than Korea spent in their half.
They improve in the second period and score a beautiful consolation through Seung-ho Paik. Dani Alves attempts to Phoenix from the Flames Neymar’s goal from the opening game. Even third-choice Brazil keeper, the enjoyably-named Weverton, gets on for a brief taste of the World Cup. He can say he was there, on the sort of night which propels Brazil’s reputation through the generations.