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FIFA World Cup: It’s just like watching vintage Brazil

Express News Service

CHENNAI: After Brazil’s national consciousness-altering loss in the final of the 1950 World Cup, the authorities launched a campaign to change the colour of the side’s jersey. The campaign — a national-level competition — had one basic guideline. The new kit should contain the four colours of the national flag (green, yellow, blue and white). A teenager, Aldyr Garcia Schlee, came up with the winning design. Yellow shirt, blue shorts, white socks and a tinge of green around the collar.

Five years later, Selecao, with a 17-year-old Pele in the side, dazzled the world in the country’s new kit. Since then, the yellow jersey has sort of become a symbol for hedonistic brilliance. One-touch pass and move magic as if the sport was entirely conjured up in a dream factory. On Monday, Brazil treated the watching world to exactly that. They distilled sport into what it truly is. Fun. An exercise in entertaining the public who had either paid for match tickets or taken out a subscription to watch the match on cable TV or on an OTT platform. It was the Harlem Globetrotters bringing out their greatest hits.  

Seal dribbles. Dizzying, carousel passing. One-touch finishes. Free-style skills near the centre-circle. And dancing. Oh, there was a lot of dancing. It was the night Brazil — heavily touted to win this edition because of the embarrassment of attacking riches at their disposal — truly arrived at this World Cup. You could even argue this was a 90-minute soliloquy where Brazil truly displayed the frightening characteristics that this side possesses. If Pele had tuned in from the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo, where he is currently undergoing treatment for colon cancer, it would have brought a smile to his face. At some level, this was Brazil showing Pele that the next generation — this generation — knows what it’s like to play in the yellow jersey. “You need not worry because your legacy is safe, secure and sound with us,” was seemingly the message. After the match, the players brought out a big banner dedicated to Pele.

The match itself — at least the first 45 minutes — was Brazil from a different era. Gone were the superstars who felt the yellow jersey was additional baggage. This was a Brazil you had read about in newspaper reports in the days of black and white. This was a Brazil you had seen in official World Cup films before the advent of colour TVs. This was a Brazil the football world had fallen in love with in 1982, even if they didn’t win the whole thing. Titles and trophies are overrated, anyway. This was a Brazil that made you want them to score even more than the four first-half goals they ended up scoring. Forget supporting the underdogs. When Brazil play like that, you throw out one of the sport’s greatest unwritten rules — backing the underdogs — out the window.

Coach Tite welcomed back Neymar into the fold and less than 300 seconds later, there was an inkling of the night ahead. Brazil’s front three of Neymar, Vinicius Jnr and Richarlison combined for the first time. Even if the move came to nothing, it was a warning shot to South Korea, who had seemingly decided the best form of defence was offence. They had decided on a high-line plus full-backs who would join in.

Two minutes later, Vinicius was wheeling away in celebration. Raphinha picked up the ball on the right channel and drove at the defence before escaping the attention of one Korean defender. His cut back was inch perfect for the onrushing Vinicius who finished the move with his toe.

Six minutes later, Richarlison was fouled inside the box and Neymar sent the keeper the wrong way before caressing the ball the other way.

If the first 28 minutes were extraordinary, the next 60 seconds or so were otherworldly. Football that belonged in video games. Richarlison dribbled the ball thrice on his forehead — a move known as seal dribble — passed the ball, received it before he opened his body for the simplest of finishes with his left foot. South Korea would have quite liked it if they had the option of going home and restarting again another day.

Seven minutes later, the Selecao were dancing. Again. With vast open spaces at the back, Richarlison picked the ball and drove before releasing Neymar who spotted Vinicius on his outside. The Real Madrid man clipped a cross for Lucas Pacqueta whose first-time shot went through a mass of South Korean legs before nestling into the net.

After the break, Brazil declared at four. South Korea, to be fair, kept trying, kept pushing. They had multiple chances before Paik Seung-ho’s strike from outside the box finally beat Alisson Becker. But it was going to be nothing more than consolation, a footnote to a Brazilian party.

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