On these rare, rare nights the memory can play a trick. At some unmarked point in the future it forgets where you were sat. Instead you simply remember that you were there.
But the 13th and final night at this temporary arena down in Doha’s docks will be different. Seat BB18 will survive as long as the memory does — because it didn’t exist. It was part of a bank of seats covered by a long thin piece of FIFA-purple fabric, there for no discernible reason.
Instead we jumped into the next closest and hoped it wasn’t someone else’s. Given it was in the very last row of the stadium and Qatar have struggled to fill them we were pretty confident. As it turned out, row BB had its upside.
The Brazilian video analysts and members of the technical team who weren’t on the bench were sat just across. As their team served up one of the most breathtaking attacking performances in their modern history it was illuminating to watch them. The joy was as juvenile and genuine as the rest of the stadium. As each piece of scintillating schoolyard skill came off to perfection, their jaws dropped too. They roared, they jumped, just like the blooms of yellow around Stadium 974 and half the world watching on.
Foremost among them was Juninho Paulista, slighter and bespeckled now. He’s national team co-ordinator these days but knows what it feels like when the magic pulses like this. When everything flows and fits and finds a body on the same wavelength. When O Jogo goes beyond Bonito to somewhere else.
As Vinicius Junior and Neymar then Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta rained down goals on the hapless, helpless Koreans he celebrated like a man who knew what this meant. He was a key part of the last Brazilians team to win one of these things, featuring five times in 2002. That he celebrated the most pedestrian of the goals the most vociferously was telling too.
Neymar’s 13th-minute penalty, which effectively killed the game before it would be lit up again and again, saw the entire CBF team embrace in a huge group hug high up in the stands. There was another on the sidelines where Tite and the subs embraced and one more, involving the man himself, in the far corner.
Neymar is back. Brazil are back with him — in a big way. Perhaps in a way we have not seen for two decades. Yes the South Koreans provided such little resistance when they needed to and were naive enough to still be leaving four against three at the back when Brazil already had their tails straight up in that remarkable 29-minute spell when all the goals arrived. But this is still a side which beat Portugal and held Uruguay scoreless. And here they were torn to shreds in the knockout stages of a World Cup.
How much of it was down to the No.10? Technically and literally — some of it. In the harder-to-define feelings realm, it felt like all of it was down to his return.
He had hobbled off under the Lusail lights after 79 minutes of Brazil’s opener. It was just six minutes after Richarlison’s acrobatic second had lit up that cavernous place — and lit up Qatar 2022. The cliché that a World Cup hasn’t really started until Brazil turn up felt a little less tired in those moments. But they’d barely turned up again since.
Their first Neymar-less game was also here at Stadium 974 where the shipping containers weren’t filled by the brilliance of Brazil’s supporting cast stepping out of his shadow against Switzerland but with frustration from 83 minutes of toil until Casemiro settled things himself. Against Cameroon the back-ups faltered further still, kept scoreless in losing a dead rubber 1-0.
So back he came at a time when the other primary contenders had already made their move into the last eight. Argentina, France, England, even the Netherlands had all found a new gear since Neymar had left the stage. It felt like Brazil needed a response. Boy did they provide it.
By 13 minutes, the Koreans had kicked off three times. The first was made down the right by Raphinha who torched Hwang In Beom and squared. Neymar couldn’t connect but deflected to Vinicius Junior whose finish was sumptuous. An early lead and a chance to show us what they could do with it. They did plenty.
It was two when Richarlison nicked the ball off Kim Moon Hwan’s toe and won a penalty which Neymar converted and Juninho toasted lustily. It moved him one behind Pele on the all-time list but it got him going in this tournament and that, you sense, was why they celebrated wildly.
Then the party really started. Korea couldn’t live with the pace or the precision. It genuinely felt like Brazil didn’t misplace a pass for 36 minutes. The third on the half hour was parts audacious, parts ridiculous. Richarlison played solo head tennis and then a one-two with Thiago Silva, the captain parked on the edge of the opposing box. The finish was gorgeous too. It may have been the goal of the tournament.
Seven minutes later Vinicius Junior scooped one up for the onrushing Paqueta to slot it home. It would have lit up any game but this. There were other highlights that gave light to the Brazilian looseness which may feel particularly threatening to the rest, Tite doing Richarlison’s pigeon celebration on the sidelines after his goal a prime example.
After the break Korea tested them and that may be no bad thing either. Alisson got to make his first saves of the tournament, a couple of them stunners. He could do nothing about Seung Ho Paik’s scorching long-distance drive which didn’t feel like much consolation at all.
The highlight of the second half came ten minutes in, behind one of the goals where the Brazilian fans unrelieved a huge banner to Pele, urging him to get well soon. His people had sent a message from him saying he would be watching from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo.
If he was, he saw something familiar, something which Juninho saw too — Brazil in World Cup-winning form. Next up is a tired-looking Croatia. There may be more nights to remember in Qatar.
Alisson 8 (Weverton 80); Danilo 6 (Bremer 72), Marquinhos 7, Thiago Silva 7, Eder Militao 7 (Dani Alves 63); Casemiro 8, Lucas Paqueta 8; Raphinha 8, Neymar 9 (Rodrygo 80), Vinicius Junior 8 (Martinelli 72); Richarlison 9.
Vinicius Junior (7), Neymar (13, P), Richarlison (29), Paqueta (36).
Kim Seung Gyu 6, Kim Moon Hwan 4, Min Jae Kim 3, Kim Young Gwon 4, Jin Su Kim 4 (Chul Hong HT); Hwang in Beom 4 (Seung-Ho Paik 65), Jung Woo Young 3 (Jun Ho Son HT), Jae Sung Lee 4 (Lee Kang In 74); Hwang He Chan 5, Cho Gue Sung 4 (Ui-jo Hwang 80), Son Heung Min 5.
Seung Ho Paik (76).
Jung Woo Young.
Clement Turpin (FRA) 7.