The Sky Sports writers reflect on Monday's World Cup action as Brazil produce an electrifying first-half display to show why they are favourites
Tuesday 6 December 2022 12:27, UK
It says a lot about the bewildering level of technical ability in this Brazil side that it was their centre-backs, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, who combined to set up Richarlison's brilliant third goal.
From front to back, they were all at it, toying with South Korea and administering brutal punishment, their dazzling first-half display - albeit against poor opposition - a reminder of why Brazil, although slow starters at this tournament, are favourites to win it.
Richarlison's strike, which featured him juggling the ball on his head in the build-up, was the pick of the four. The Tottenham forward, scorer of a sensational overhead kick against Serbia, appears to be running his own personal goal of the tournament competition.
But there was plenty to enjoy about the others too.
For the opener, there was Raphinha skinning his man to create the chance, then Vinicius Jr taking the ball under his spell and bending it around four South Korean players on the goal-line.
For the fourth, there was the Real Madrid man turning provider, his delicate, lofted centre finding the onrushing Lucas Paqueta without the need for him to break his stride.
There were many more moments to savour in between, from the dancing celebrations, one of which involved their manager in the dugout, to the showboating brilliance that drew gasps from the crowd.
This was Brazil as we know them.
South Korea were accommodating opponents, but the speed, precision and sheer enjoyment of Brazil's display evoked memories of their best sides. At the end, the players held up a banner in support of Pele as he watched from his hospital bed in Sao Paulo. The great man doubtless approved of what he saw. Brazil have arrived.
Alisson would not have been expected to have been in contention for Player of the Match as Brazil took on South Korea. Less still after the 4-1 thrashing they unleashed.
But the Liverpool goalkeeper, beaten for the first time in the tournament by a second-half Seung-Ho Paik stunner, had his work cut out in Stadium 974 with a number of fine saves to keep Brazil's progress more routine than it could have been.
He was at full stretch to get fingertips to a Hee-Chan Hwang curler which would have beaten many of his World Cup colleagues before the half-time break.
He denied the same player with a sprawling stop after the interval, and went on to produce another superb save to keep out an offside effort from Heung-Min Son - not that he knew it at the time.
Coupled with his always-excellent distribution and quality on the ball, it was a reassuring display for the Brazil backline who did not always reach the heights of their goalkeeper's defensive performance.
There is little doubt about the quality of the South American's attack. With Alisson between the sticks, their backline too looks more akin to that of a world champion.
Roy Keane's verdict was unequivocal.
"Alisson will be disappointed with conceding a goal. There's not much he can do with it, there's a couple of deflections on the way.
"We've said it before - an outstanding goalkeeper."
Second is the new first when it comes to penalty shootouts - and Croatia don't mind defying the odds either.
The victory over Japan was the seventh consecutive set of spot kicks won by the side shooting second, with Croatia happy to go the distance again in the knockout stages. They have become one of the toughest sides to beat in recent tournaments.
At the last World Cup, they held their nerve to progress past both Denmark and Russia on penalties before seeing off England after extra-time to reach the final. At Euro 2020, they were undone in extra-time by Spain having suffered the same fate to Portugal in 2016. Croatia do not go out easily.
Croatia may be an ageing side but there are still some marathons left in them yet. Against a Japan team full of energy and running, the Croats slowly but surely ground them down, suffocated their attacks and broke their will. Then their experience came through in the shootout.
Croatia will pose a completely different challenge to Brazil than South Korea. Neymar and co must be ready for a battle until the last moment.
Japan's penalties were nervous. Tentative. But two of those stopped by Dominik Livakovic were bound for the corner. The total post-shot expected-goal value of those four penalties was over three. Only one beat him. These were good stops by the Croatia goalkeeper.
For all the talk of Croatian experience, the biggest names - Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic - had already been substituted. It fell to their 27-year-old goalkeeper, playing in his first World Cup knockout game, to make the difference.
Livakovic had faced 54 career penalties before this match, with a conversion rate of 74 per cent against him. The average conversion rate is around 78 per cent, similar to that of the Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. The stats were on his side. Livakovic backed it up.
If Japan's performances in past World Cups told us anything, it was that they would fail to make it out of a group containing previous winners Germany and Spain, plus Costa Rica.
Dating back to 1998, the Asian side had alternated between exiting at the group stage and the last 16 every four years. Given they made it to the first knockout stage in 2018, falling at the opening hurdle this time round seemed inevitable - particularly once they were drawn in such a challenging group.
With the group-stage exit/last-16 exit pattern ended, Japan's next challenge was finally making it to their first World Cup quarter-final.
Japan had appeared in three previous last-16 encounters, suffering heart-breaking defeats on each occasion. A 1-0 loss to Turkey saw them knocked out of their home tournament in 2002, Paraguay beat them on penalties in 2010 and they threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to Belgium in 2018.
Japan can add 2022 to that list of emotional defeats. After going toe-to-toe with Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, for 120 minutes, a dreadful set of penalties ended their World Cup campaign and prompted tears amongst the squad.
But Japan can take heart from their achievements in Qatar. Their wins over Germany and Spain will go down as two of the biggest shocks of the tournament, while they were one of only nine teams who made it to the 2018 knockout stages to do so again four years later.
"Japan is reaching a level where we can play on the world stage," Moriyasu said after full-time. While Croatia's knockout-stage savvy ultimately proved insurmountable, Japan can confidently claim to have established themselves as a team to be respected - perhaps even feared - internationally.