DOHA, Qatar — Even the coach was dancing.
Dressed in a dark suit as he stalked the grass in front of Brazil’s bench, Tite allowed himself to be engulfed by his players as they cavorted in celebration around him, joining them eventually with a wiggle of his shoulders and hips. There were still more than 15 minutes left in the first half.
That is how carefree a game it was for Brazil, how much joy it took in dismantling an outmatched South Korea squad in the round of 16 on a balmy Monday night in Doha. The Brazilians repeated the same pattern all night — coldblooded goal, happy dance — until the final whistle blew to end their fun. The lopsided score, 4-1, somehow did not fully capture the team’s dominance.
Brazil’s display, even with South Korea providing only mild resistance to the outburst of collective skill, surely cemented its status as one of the favorites to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy on Dec. 18. Brazil plays next on Friday against Croatia in the quarterfinal round, and it will be favored to win that game, too.
The goal that got Tite, 61, doing his jig was the team’s third, which materialized from the foot of his striker, Richarlison, in one of the finest displays of individual wizardry in the tournament thus far.
Tussling with a South Korean defender just outside the penalty area, Richarlison bounced the ball three times off his head in a stylish effort to keep possession. Finally, he brought the ball down, shimmied into a bit of open space, and knocked it over to a teammate. The ball was already on its way back to him as he sprinted toward the goal, and all he had to do was slide it past Kim Seung-gyu, South Korea’s goalkeeper.
It was the third goal of the tournament for Richarlison, who has used the big stage to announce himself as one of the most exciting attacking players in the world.
But it was not just Richarlison and Tite joyfully shuffling their feet on Monday. The Brazilians were dancing all night.
There was Vinícius Júnior, leading three of his teammates in a coordinated jig near the left corner flag, after scoring Brazil’s first goal in the seventh minute.
There was Neymar, taking a central role in an impromptu mosh pit after scoring the team’s second on a penalty in the 13th.
There was Lucas Paquetá, tap dancing furiously by himself in the right corner, tearing up the grass with a sober look on his face, after slotting home the fourth in the 36th.
It was, in all, a resounding return to form for the Brazilians, who lost their final group-stage match against Cameroon last week while rotating much of their roster.
The only people who were not smiling on Monday, then, were the South Koreans. The game for them must have been a harsh awakening so soon after the euphoria of their final group-stage game, when a stunning injury-time goal catapulted them into the knockout round.
Against Brazil, they looked decidedly average. Their one goal was spectacular, drilled by Paik Seung-ho from well outside the penalty area in the 76th minute. But they struggled otherwise to gain any sort of a foothold against Brazil’s relentless quality.
Their only other consolation — if it could be called that — was that they forced the Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson to make his first save of the entire tournament. He made a total of five before being subbed out late in the second half.
For Brazil, the warm feelings began well before the opening whistle.
Stadium 974, which sits on Doha’s humid waterfront, was still just filling up when the first big cheer of the night rang out around the stands. Emerging out of the tunnel and onto the crisp green field, sporting a newly blond hairdo and glistening diamonds on his earlobes, was Neymar, who had missed the Brazilians’ previous two games after injuring his right ankle in their opening match.
Brazil, as the next 90 minutes would show, boasts a wondrous assemblage of talent, with a squad composed of some of the world’s finest players. But so much still revolves around Neymar, the mercurial playmaker from São Paulo. He was the man every fan wanted to see.
Neymar looked mostly like his usual self, gliding around the grass with the ball, unbalancing defenders with his slinky moves.
But for the remaining teams in this tournament, the scary thing about Brazil may not be the return of Neymar, but the emergence of so many sparkling talents around him. As a group, they will be looking to keep the dancing going deep into the tournament.