Brazil evoke adored memories of 1970 and 1982 as Pelé watches on

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“Football is happiness. It’s a dance. It’s a true party,” Pelé had said and here, on the night he watched from the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo, it was. O Rei had posted that in September to encourage Vinícius Júnior never to back down in the face of abuse: if he wanted to celebrate goals dancing, he should dance. In fact, they all should. “We will not allow racism to stop us smiling”, he had insisted; “dance, Vini,” became the command, going viral; and by the time Brazil reached Qatar, they had a whole repertoire, ready to perform.

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

“We have 10 different dances,” Richarlison revealed, one for each goal they scored. They threatened to run out in a single night, a single half. In the end it was “only” four, all scored within 36 minutes, special delivery.

At the final whistle, they paraded a banner showing Pelé celebrating that header at the 1970 World Cup. A few hours before Pelé had recalled walking Stockholm’s streets in 1958, dreaming of fulfilling a promise to his father to win the World Cup; “I know,” he said, addressing the latest generation wearing that yellow shirt, “that you have the same dream.”

Oh, they do. They might not make it still, but this felt like a statement. After defeat against Cameroon, perhaps they needed it. More importantly, perhaps Pelé needed it, hospitalised with cancer of the colon, treatment withdrawn.

On Sunday, assistant coach César Sampaio asked everyone to pray for Pelé; now his team provided a homage. Not because they won or scored four, but because they danced, together. Even Tite joined in, a birdie on the touchline. Above all, because they played.

Brazil's Dani Alves tries an acrobatic shot in the second half.
Brazil's Dani Alves tries an acrobatic shot in the second half. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

There’s a moment in the buildup to the final goal in the 1970 World Cup final, before the whole thing unfolds with Pelé strolling about, not a care in the world, and Carlos Alberto steaming in, as if rushing to rescue his dog from a fire, when Clodoaldo does this, well, this thing. It’s a stepover, dribble, twist, all in one and it wipes out four Italy players.

And then when he’s finished, he just passes the ball on like there was no reason for it except fun, which is the best reason of all. “They’re taking it in turns to give an exhibition,” commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme says.

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It’s one of those scenes watched a million times on the goals tapes you recorded as a kid, finger hovering over that red triangle: endless VHS cassettes, commentary still somewhere in your head, buried there before and returning to the surface now at Stadium 974. “Sheer delightful football.”

It’s also a kind of cliche, of course – 1970, that idealised technicolour dream of a tournament, endlessly replayed and eternally aspired to but never truly emulated.

Or maybe you prefer 1982, the Brazil team despite losing, joy and tragedy in one – Goals Tape 8, footage sliced up and set, inevitably, to Santana. Then there’s 1998 and Mas que nada, but that was an advert and at an airport, not on a pitch. Which is partly the point.

There is something about Brazil, jogo bonito and all, and they are a bit different. There’s a trio like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. But the lament, which is also a cliche, notes that it’s not really like that any more. Only here – exaggeration alert, and apologies for the rush of childish nostalgia – for a little while, it kind of was.

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And even if it isn’t, so what? Go with it for a little bit. They did. When Vinícius clipped the ball to Lucas Paquetá, so easy, so smooth, there was the slightest echo of Éder, the left-winger of 1982, he of the chip over Alan Rough. When Neymar pirouetted round three men – one of them the referee, because why not? – there was something, well, Brazilian about it. And when Richarlison coolly completed the third from Thiago Silva’s pass – what was he doing there? – it was a ridiculous move. The goal that started it was too cool. Dance, Vini. Even Neymar’s penalty was a little bit silly.

It was so easy, there was time for changes, a chance to rest and, more importantly, to take part, for more of them to enjoy this. The second half slipped away amidst smiles and, unexpectedly, Alisson saves.

Dani Alves – “people ask why I still play at 39. Because I love this game, love it!” – came on and almost scored a flying volley, which was reminiscent too: “Zico, what a cracker.”

Earlier, one of that 82 team worried that no one dribbles any more, but here they did, the fear he lamented in football gone for the night.

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They dribbled and passed and danced and had fun and for a little while it wasn’t about whether they went through or won this whole thing, pressure left for another day; it was just happiness, a dance, a party.

They were taking it in turns to give an exhibition, and it was just like watching Brazil. When Pelé played. Hope you enjoyed it, King.