DOHA, Qatar — Earth’s team, technically named “Brazil,” remains emphatically in this World Cup after Monday night’s win, granting the planet’s biggest sporting event a persisting array of extravagant promise.
“How do you say it?” said Tite, their avuncular 61-year-old manager. “What’s it called? The offensive boldness of this team. They are bold. They play individual football, which is something that is very impressive.”
He carried on from there, waxing on to thank the grass-roots coaches in his nation for helping shape an art gallery of a generation, hoping to “divert some of the happiness toward them” and saying of the grown-up kids they once shepherded, “They are balanced, and they are aware they have a good equilibrium — and they are aware if they lose that balance it might be fatal.”
If you could spot such brilliance only in the work of Vinícius Júnior — the Real Madrid winger, a 22-year-old from the state of Rio de Janeiro and an astounding player among astounding players — that might be plenty to sate you on the way back to the metro. When they dare to combine a kinetic bale of ingenuity such as him with the bounty around him, not even counting Paris-based superstar Neymar, who returned from his ankle injury, things might happen that hardly ever happen in shirts of other colors.
That would include the fourth and prettiest of the first-half goals against South Korea, when Vinícius Júnior himself had possession on the left edge of the box with the customary mass from both teams in the middle. Rather than busying himself with them, he chipped a pretty long thing all the way over all their heads to someone he must have seen coming from yonder out of a corner of an eye. That ended up being Lucas Paquetá, a 25-year-old with an excellent present at West Ham in London and an outlandish future, who arrived to one-time it back to the left and into the net.
Oh, Vinícius Júnior also scored.
He scored first, actually, as Brazil slathered goals across the seventh minute, the 13th, the 29th and the 36th. That delighted its fans ringing the stadium — especially the thickest group perched above two banners honoring Pelé, that star of all stars hospitalized at 82 in Sao Paulo. It was about time “Viní Júnior” got his turn after giving crafty turns to so many others early in the tournament, and it came through some dazzling dribbling along the right from — here’s another guy — Raphinha, who left defenders bypassed like talented traffic cones.
Raphinha got to the byline, knocked it back through the middle where Neymar couldn’t quite handle it and watched with 43,847 others when it went all the way over so that Vinícius Júnior could welcome it from his lonely spot on the left, then wait with it a spell.
He drilled it into the far right, and that came in only the seventh minute, whereupon the Brazilian players went into the corner and did a bouncing circle dance followed by a line dance, the dances briefly threatening to take up the remainder of the first half.
It’s a theatrical team, of course, much like other Brazils that have tried to win a World Cup in the unthinkable 20-year drought since Brazil won its fifth and last to date. Its acting skills may have helped it in the 13th minute, when Richarlison — there’s another guy — got an inadvertent kick in the box from Kim Moon-hwan and milked it to the heavens, setting up a penalty that survived a VAR review, setting up Neymar at the spot for a stutter-step, a kick slid slowly into the right corner and a showy reaction with a protuberant tongue.
That, said South Korea Coach Paulo Bento, “basically put a lid on the game,” nodding farewell to South Korea, which had inched into the knockout stage in second-half stoppage time of the last game of group play, when captain Son Heung-min of Tottenham fame went on a mighty run and threaded a pass to Hwang Hee-chan, who plucked it in to beat Portugal. This admirable team looked about as rattled as any collection of humans might. Yet even the third goal it allowed owed more to art than fault.
Richarlison headed one down from the sky. He nudged one to Marquinhos, who entered the box but flicked it back to the eternal Thiago Silva — and there’s another guy. He fed it through to a Richarlison gone charging in on the right, and the matter of banging it to the left of goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu seemed a formality by then.
South Korea would score eventually, a crackling 30-yard wonder from Paik Seung-ho atop the middle of the box in the 76th minute, but Bento would say, “I believe [the score] ended in a very fair manner,” while Brazil’s defense would remain overlooked but not all that bad, with two goals allowed in four matches and the venerable Danilo back from injury himself. “The pride,” Brazil assistant coach Cesar Sampaio said. “I think even though as a team they are offensive, they are very proud of being defenders. … They have this behavior: They like to play offensively, but they are good at recovering on the ball.”
“You did not ask this,” Tite told a Brazilian reporter at one point in the merriment, “but I said earlier that our players are versatile, and that’s why they played in different positions.”
It did seem they all played everywhere — or were everywhere.
The Brazilians made off for the tunnel at halftime knowing they would emerge from another Friday, against Croatia in the quarterfinals. These global rock stars would keep this event bubbling with its leading flavor — theirs. They would bring along the Pelé banner they brought to midfield after Monday’s final whistle. And before all that, they would make sure Stadium 974, the first temporary venue in World Cup history, would spend its last World Cup match staging something powerful before it and the shipping containers that decorate its facade get packed up and sent to another country for reassembly.
Among items shipped, a Brazilian highlight reel might make a swell gift.
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.