By TALES AZZONI
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The joy — and the dancing — are back for five-time champion Brazil at the World Cup.
The big win over South Korea on Monday secured Brazil a berth in the quarterfinals in Qatar. It also restored the team’s confidence after a tumultuous start to the tournament in which the Seleçao lost Neymar to injury and saw its unbeaten group-stage streak end in a defeat to Cameroon.
But Neymar retuned in style, looking fully fit and scoring a goal in Brazil’s 4-1 win at Stadium 974. Vinícius Júnior, Richarlison and Lucas Paquetá also scored, and after each goal the Brazilians broke out dance moves.
They had promised different celebrations for each goal in Qatar, and were at last able to use many of them, after a group-stage in which Brazil scored only three times. It lost 1-0 to Cameroon in its last group game.
Even coach Tite got in on the act, joining Richarlison for his trademark “pigeon” celebration.
The coach and the players got into a circle and put their hands on their hips and started moving their heads back and forth to imitate a pigeon, which is Richarlison’s nickname.
After the match, Richarlison showed his dance to former Brazil star Ronaldo, teaching him the moves.
The Brazil players had already danced after Vinícius Júnior’s first goal, when he, Neymar, Raphinha and Lucas Paquetá did a few moves together. It was similar after each goal.
All the dancing got some criticism from former Ireland player and commentator Roy Keane, who said the Brazilian players were “disrespecting the opposition,” especially with the manager getting involved.
Tite defended his players.
“It just means being happy because of the goal, the performance, the win…” he said. “It’s not about being disrespectful with the opponent.”
Tite had joked with Richarlison before the match that if the player scored, he would dance with him to celebrate.
He said the victory was important to restore the team’s morale after the loss to Cameroon, and that having Neymar back was crucial for the squad’s confidence.
“The team improved, there’s nothing more I could ask from them,” he said. “Neymar is our leader, the team knows that he is there and that he makes the difference. He makes the other players better.”
Neymar missed two matches because of a right ankle injury sustained in the team’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia. Brazil then defeated Switzerland 1-0 before falling to Cameroon in what was its first group-stage loss after 17 games, a streak that had dated to 1998.
Brazil, seeking its first World Cup title in two decades, will face 2018 runner-up Croatia in the quarterfinals on Friday. Brazil has made it to the quarterfinals in eighth straight World Cups.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez): Brazil’s Neymar, from right, celebrates with team mates Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha and Vinicius Junior after scoring his side’s second goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Brazil and South Korea, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.