England might have a case to rival last night’s display after blowing away Senegal in their last-16 clash on Sunday and Spain hit Costa Rica for seven in the group stage, but neither played with the swagger that Brazil did, as they dismantled South Korea to reach the quarter-finals.
Richarlison’s goal to make it 3-0 in the first half summed up the sort of dazzling football we have not seen from Brazil for many years — and why they are many people’s favourites.
After Korea cleared from their box, Richarlison juggled the ball three times off his head before popping it off to Marquinhos. From there, the ball was zipped to Thiago Silva, who fired it first time into Richarlison, after the Tottenham forward carried on his run into the penalty area.
Richarlison controlled the ball with his right foot before finishing coolly with his left. A brilliant Brazilian goal, created by their two centre-backs.
“It was beautiful,” said Richarlison. “The play with the two centre-backs was nice. When I controlled the ball with my head, I didn’t see who was there. I just saw the yellow jerseys and I made the pass. The goal was a nice one.”
Recounting the goal in an interview with Brazil legend Ronaldo after the game, Richarlison was close to tears as he spoke to the best player ever to wear the Brazil No9 shirt.
The last time the pair met, a young Richarlison asked Ronaldo for a selfie at a Nike event. This time, they reflected on the dream World Cup that Richarlison is having.
Last night’s goal took his tally in Qatar to three, and two of those are serious contenders for Goal of the Tournament.
“You know very well that No9s score for a living,” said Richarlison. “Like it or not, I believe God blessed me when I wear this yellow jersey. I have been scoring a lot with this jersey. Wearing the No9 is a lot of pressure, and I have to honour it. And I believe I am doing well in this role. God doesn’t give something that we can’t carry.”
With Pele currently in hospital, Brazil rolled back the years with a performance that resembled some of the great teams he played in.
The opening goal from Vinicius Junior was a composed finish at the back post, while Neymar’s penalty was so nonchalant you wondered if this was an exhibition match and not the World Cup. After Richarlison made it three, the fourth came courtesy of a volley from West Ham midfielder Lucas Paqueta, who arrived late to finish Vinicius’s cross.
By that point South Korea were beaten, although their fans were given something to cheer, as Seung-ho Paik scored a stunning long-range strike late on.
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Chelsea defender Silva said: “It’s the best 45 minutes and we played to a plan. I can’t think of any other 45 minutes that we played with such energy as this one.”
That energy extended to Brazil’s celebrations. Richarlison said they had prepared 10 dances for Qatar and we were treated to four last night. Roy Keane might not have been a fan, saying during his ITV punditry their choreographed dances were “like watching Strictly”, but they summed up the mood.
Even head coach Tite joined in the ‘pigeon dance’ after Richarlison’s goal, which is a reference to Richarlison’s nickname ‘O Pombo’ (The Pigeon).
Ronaldo had a go at replicating it when he interviewed Richarlison. Who can blame him for wanting to join in the fun?