World Cup 2022: Brazil routs South Korea, dances into quarters looking like title favorite

Neymar celebrates with Raphinha, Lucas Paqueta and Vinicius Junior after scoring Brazil's second goal Monday against South Korea. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

DOHA, Qatar — The sweeping, unrelenting and joyous terror of the Brazil national team struck South Korea here Monday night in a World Cup knockout game that felt more like a statement-making show.

It ended Brazil 4, South Korea 1, but it was less about goals and more about the yellow-clad attackers who danced and darted and flowed.

The Brazilians sprung forward in waves at Stadium 974, with their carefree fans creating an upbeat soundtrack. They wove intricate patterns. They samba’d with a soccer ball at their feet and after it had punctured the South Korean net.

And they showed why — with Neymar back from injury and brilliance all around him — they are 2022 World Cup favorites.

They showed why before they’d even scored one of their musical goals, when the ball found its way to Vinicius Jr. on the left side. He squared up a defender and struck fear into all of South Korea. Then he casually swung the ball through midfield, out to the right, to Raphinha, who did likewise. They had Neymar floating between them and Richarlison running beyond them, and for 45 minutes, before they eased up on the gas, they looked downright impossible to stop.

They went ahead via this very multipronged threat, when Raphinha discarded a fullback on the right. Neymar and Richarlison crashed toward the penalty spot, and Korean defenders swarmed. Raphinha’s cross missed all of them and squirted through to Vinicius, to a top-25 player in the world all alone, with a luxurious few seconds to pick his corner.

He picked it — top right — and Brazil was on its way.

Neymar scored from the penalty spot soon thereafter. After each goal, all 10 field players gravitated toward a corner flag and formed a circle, with their arms around one another and with the goalscorer in the middle. All 10 bounded up and down with happiness. Four — Neymar, Vini, Raphinha and Lucas Paquetá — stayed behind after the huddles broke to dance their already choreographed dance. It all seemed emblematic of their cheery togetherness, of their united joy.

And so did their soccer. It was simultaneously rhythmic and ruthless. Even Casemiro, the always-on enforcer who enables the fluidity of the front five, pinged the ball about. Thiago Silva, the savvy captain who anchors the defense, picked out Richarlison with a precise through-ball for the third goal.

Neymar did as he pleased. Yellow shirts streamed forward with apparent ease. Vini chipped a clever cross to Paquetá, who volleyed home the fourth.

And with that, a Round of 16 match became one part party, one part leisurely stroll.

There will, of course, be trickier challenges than South Korea — perhaps not Croatia on Friday in the quarters but perhaps the Netherlands or Argentina in the semis. The ease of Monday, though, was Brazil’s doing. Korea had stymied Uruguay and beaten Portugal. Brazil, however, was two steps above.

They waltzed to victory with world-class wingers such as Antony waiting patiently on the bench or, in Gabriel Martinelli’s case, appearing for a second-half cameo. Gabriel Jesus was unavailable. Rodrygo was unneeded until late on. They were so comfortable that Alisson, their animal-like keeper, was replaced by his backup with 10 minutes to go.

South Korea pulled a goal back in the 76th minute to deliver its fans some deserved delight, but the result was never in doubt. Nor is the identity of the best team here in Qatar — the most complete team, the most refined team, the most proven team and quite possibly the happiest, most exuberant team.

It’s the Brazilians. And it’s unclear who can stop them.