Before this World Cup kicked off, our own Billy Haisley asked a simple but important question: Can Brazil be Brazil again? It was a question not just about Brazil's chances in the tournament, but about whether this particular team would be able to mark itself as a worthy vessel for everything that Brazilian soccer stands for. This is perhaps the only team in the world that enters international tournaments with a mandate not just to win the whole thing, but to play beautiful soccer while doing so.
Brazil's group-stage games didn't provide much of an answer. Though there were discrete flashes of jogo bonito in the first two games, the Seleção's wins over Serbia and Switzerland were defined by the squad's total control and methodical throttling of their opponents. The third game, a 1–0 loss to Cameroon in which Brazil rotated almost the entire starting lineup, can be ignored. But the knockout stage is where World Cup teams who coasted through the group stage tend to show who they really are—a natural consequence of being forced to play for your tournament life rather than points and position in the table. That created a lot of intrigue ahead of Brazil's game against South Korea on Monday. Would Brazil continue its pragmatic but dominant play, or would the party finally start?
The guys in yellow grabbed the aux cord right after kick-off and never gave it up. The dance floor was crowded. The neighbors thought about filing a noise complaint. At some point, someone placed their hand on a friend's sweaty face and said, "I love you, big dog." When Brazil finally left the field at halftime with a 4–0 lead, they left it littered with red solo cups and pizza boxes. They threw a fuckin' party all right. It started with Vinícius Jr.'s opening goal in the seventh minute:
Neymar made it 2–0 just a few minutes later by converting a penalty kick, and that's when things got really fun. Richarlison, already the owner of the best goal of the group stage, went and outdid himself by starting and finishing a team goal that is likely to lead any retrospective highlight package of this tournament:
Any remaining impulses to play with any sort of caution fell away after that goal, and Brazil spent the rest of the half in full flow, not just launching repeated assaults on South Korea's penalty area, but doing so with verve and flair. This goal left me spiral-eyed and cackling:
Brazil beating an underdog like South Korea 4–1 is not a remarkable result, and it's still title-or-bust for this team. And yet it's impossible to imagine that there is any Brazil fan on this planet who is not currently walking around with a serotonin-drenched grin hanging on their face. Truly great teams are special in their ability to turn a wholly predictable result into a jaw-slackening spectacle, and that's what Brazil showed itself to be on Monday. Winning is great, but it's never more fun than when you can dance while you do it.