Brazil become outright World Cup favourites following brilliant South Korea demolition

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If you love football (and are not from Argentina) there is surely no greater sight than Brazil in full flight.

Their 4-1 demolition South Korea in the last 16 of the World Cup was as beautiful as it was brutal, and served as a timely reminder that they are ready to end a 20-year wait to be world champions again.

In many ways, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has bucked the trend of the group stage establishing a clear favourite to win the competition. All the most-fancied teams sparkled at times and stuttered at others.

France lost to Tunisia, Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia, Brazil lost to Cameroon, Portugal lost to South Korea, and Spain lost to Japan. England and the Netherlands, meanwhile, produced uninspiring and turgid draws midway through their group campaigns. Germany and Belgium are already back home.

Brazil beating South Korea in the last 16 wouldn’t have normally changed anything there. In fact, it would barely have moved the needle. The manner in which they did it, though, has.

All of a sudden there is a favourite and a clear marker has been laid down. All of a sudden it’s not ‘anyone’s tournament to win’ anymore – it’s Brazil’s to lose.

You’d have to say, of course, that South Korea helped them to a certain extent. For some inexplicable reason, coach Paulo Bento – perhaps believing he was back in charge of Portugal with peak Cristiano Ronaldo – thought his side were capable of going to-to-toe with Brazil.

They set themselves up to attack with the wing-backs pushed forward and left four versus four at the back. Probably not the best of ideas against any opposition at this level or stage of a World Cup, but especially stupid when the four you are up against are the biggest attacking talents of a Brazilian generation.

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Nonetheless, being afforded the space in which to do it and actually doing it are two very different things, and what Brazil produced on the night was devastating. They led 4-0 at half-time, and even that wasn’t an accurate reflection on their dominance.

South Korea came into the game knowing they were big underdogs, of course. No one, least of all them, would have been surprised to see Brazil break down their defences. What would have hurt, though, was the way they broke down the South Korean spirit with a dagger to the soul – the kind of which only Brazilians can deliver.

One minute it was an exquisite clipped arrow into the top corner from Vinicius Junior, the next it was lightning quick one-touch passing, the next it was a scooped pass and one-touch volleyed finish. It was an assertion of strength that very quickly and clearly delivered the soul-crushing message: ‘You are nowhere near our level.’

Whether any of the other fancied teams in the competition can match that level is a question they will be asking themselves now. A performance like that will not have gone unnoticed by rivals, Neither, by the way, will have been the fact that, even at 4-0 up, Brazil were tossing bodies in the way of shots in an attempt to protect the clean sheet of the world class goalkeeper behind them.

While the flicks, tricks, scoops and samba celebrations provided the style to the Brazilian performance, that ferociously determined robustness was the substance.

It is Croatia up next for Brazil, and that will certainly provide a sterner test. Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and co will have the wiles to ask some different questions at least.

Generally speaking, though, when Brazil turn up at a World Cup with a squad like this and start performing like this, they take an awful lot of stopping. The rest will be more aware of that than most too.

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