Er put his right foot next to the ball. He took three steps back. He looked at the ball. He took three steps forward. He pressed his right foot against the ball. And when the ball followed the commands of his master, Brazil No. 10 Neymar, and spun into the top corner of the goal, the more than 43,000 people at Stadium 974 in Doha did: nothing.
But that didn’t seem to bother Neymar. why? The round of 16 of the World Cup hadn’t even started yet.
Ok, it was also just the warm-up for the soccer game against South Korea, but the goal that Neymar scored from 20 meters when his team-mates were already in the dressing room, with the exception of one goalkeeper, already indicated what was to come. That the ball obeyed him particularly well that evening. And, more importantly, the ankle of his right foot appeared to be doing the same.
It was only 13 minutes into the game when Neymar was allowed to put the ball on the penalty spot. He put his right foot next to the ball. He took eight or nine steps back. He looked at the ball. He did 13 or 14 little steps. He looked at the South Korean goalkeeper in the middle. He pressed his right foot against the ball. And when the ball followed his master’s orders again and slipped flat into the goal, the more than 43,000 people in the stadium went partying.
Danced samba with South Korea
On Monday evening, Neymar and his teammates danced samba with the South Koreans. It just wasn’t the kind of dancing that everyone enjoyed. Most of the time the Brazilians were allowed to set the pace and most of the time the South Koreans couldn’t follow. The Brazilians won this duel 4-1 – and still celebrated the party that was on the brink in the days leading up to the game.
It has been eleven days since Neymar, who is due to present his country with the World Cup in Qatar, injured the ankle of his right foot in the first group game. The pictures that were then circulated on the Internet did not bode well. You could see an ankle that was so swollen that it certainly wouldn’t have fit into a football boot. He missed both the game against Switzerland (1-0) and Cameroon (0-1, but for Brazilians who had reached the next round before that, the B team also played). However, the day before the round of 16, Tite, the national team coach, announced that Neymar would play. But the question was: How good? The answer came on Monday: very good.
In coach Tite’s 4-3-3 system, Neymar was allowed to play again in his special role in midfield, where he has the freedom of an artist. There he played his side into a first-half frenzy so electrifying it led to four goals – and could have led to more. With the penalty Richarlison had won, Neymar made it 2-0. Before that, Vinicius Junior (7th minute) had scored. Then Richarlison (29th) and Lucas Paquetá (36th) scored. And whenever the ball was in the net, all the players gathered and danced. Once even the coach joined in on the sidelines.
But it wasn’t the shots on goal that revealed why Brazil can really become world champions this winter, but the passes they prepared. The 1:0 was achieved by the winger Raphina, who dribbled the ball into the penalty area from the right and played it flat into the middle. Central defender Thiago Silva made it 3-0, fitting the ball perfectly into the penalty area. Vinicius Junior made it 4-0, dribbled into the penalty area from the left and lobed him into the back area, where Paquetá lurked and caught the ball before it hit the ground. This is what football looks like when you can dance it.
Now it wasn’t that the South Koreans didn’t have a chance. In the 76th minute, Seung-Ho Paik used it to make it 4-1. His long-range shot was worth seeing. But he could not change the impression of this evening. The Brazilians, who secured the win in the second half, seem ready. And Neymar too. He was substituted in the 80th minute. On Friday (4 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the World Cup and on MagentaTV) there will be dancing again. In the quarterfinals against Croatia.
“We dream of the title at this World Cup,” said Neymar at the end. “We’re still three games away, we’re well prepared and mentally fully focused on it.”