When Neymar stood on the sidelines after the round of 16 game against South Korea in Havaianas, it was all about Brazil’s football legend Pelé, who was suffering from serious cancer. A banner was presented to the current star of the Seleção, and he took it to his colleagues to spread out in the middle of the square at Doha’s 974 Stadium, wishing the 82-year-old well-being in front of the TV in São Paulo’s Albert to Einstein Hospital. Various banners for Pelé had already been held up in the Brazilian fan block beforehand. Now the team showed such a thing. “Pelé!” it said simply – and pictured was O Rei, Brazil’s soccer king, with a photo from the 1970 World Cup, celebrating.
The idol is very present for the Brazilians – of course the Seleção, even more than in normal times. Before kick-off, Pelé sent a message via Instagram: “I want to inspire you, my friends!” Even if it is unclear whether Pelé is currently writing such posts himself: it seems as if Pelé and the current Brazilian selection were at least playing at the World Cup in Qatar in spirit with each other double pass. As long as that is still possible. Coach Tite’s team gives the impression that they are both suffering with Pelé, but also motivated and driven by the desire to give him one last great treat by winning the title.
“It touches me a lot,” Neymar said after Monday night’s game. He sent his best wishes to Pelé and expressed the hope “that he was happy about our victory”. His colleague Vinícius Júnior, after beating South Korea 4-1 (4-0) and reaching the quarter-finals next Friday against the Croatians, who defeated Japan on penalties in their round of 16, made the transition from three-time world champion Pelé to the sporting mission of the Seleção at the World Cup. “We also play for Pelé,” said the Real Madrid winger, “it makes us strong to think about him.” He hopes “that we can become world champions for him.”
After the first-half success, the Seleção seems ready to attack for their sixth World Cup title after 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. That is now the declared goal before the quarter-finals against Croatia. “We’re still three games away,” Neymar calculated and said: “We’re well prepared and mentally focused on it.” This also applies to the 30-year-old from Paris St. Germain himself, who was in the starting XI after suffering an ankle injury against South Korea had returned. It didn’t look good for Neymar at first when he presented his badly swollen ankle after the first game against Serbia. He feared once again missing a major tournament due to injury.
He had “fears” and “doubts,” Neymar reported at the press conference as “player of the game.” He is all the happier that he can be there again. The offensive player assured him after his 80-minute mission that he “didn’t feel any pain” anymore and thanked the physiotherapists, colleagues and fans for their support. He didn’t look handicapped on the pitch either, appearing as part of an impressive squad that vastly outstripped South Korea. In less than half an hour, the Seleção were 4-0 up: Vinícius Júnior scored the lead after seven minutes, Neymar added a penalty six minutes later, Richarlison made it 3-0 in the 29th minute and Lucas Paquetá seven Minutes later the fourth goal. After that, they took it much easier and conceded a goal from Seung-Ho Paik in the 76th minute.
The Brazilians celebrated each of their goals by dancing in two circles. They formed a circle with the goal scorer and the other players on the pitch. The other was formed by the substitutes in front of the bench. After Richarlison’s particularly skilful 3-0 lead, even Tite allowed himself to be carried away by the group of his supplementary players. Richarlison initiated the goal by juggling the ball on his head and then playing it on to Marquinhos. Via Thiago Silva, the ball returned to Richarlison, who completed his third goal of the tournament. The magic of that goal was the epitome of jogo bonito, the beautiful game.
The dance routines afterwards, just like after the other goals, were just an expression of one’s own joy and not of disrespect towards the opponent, as Paquetá and Tite also assured. The latter is one of Brazil’s outstanding offense. In this, not only Neymar is capable of special moments. But also all the other goal scorers and the right winger Raphinha, who was still goalless at the World Cup, also showed that in this performance. “Everything will be fine,” said Neymar, “I’m sure we’ll win in the end.” Also for Pelé.