Seoul (AFP), Jun 2 – Neymar scored two penalties to close on Pele’s goal record for Brazil as they fired a World Cup warning with a 5-1 thrashing of South Korea on Thursday.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward netted his 72nd and 73rd goals for his country to come within striking distance of the legendary Pele’s 77 for Brazil.
Neymar upstaged South Korean captain Son Heung-min, the joint Premier League Golden Boot winner who was kept quiet by a rampant Brazil in front of 65,000 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Neymar had been a doubt for the match after he suffered a right foot injury during training on Wednesday, but he was the star of the show on a night when Richarlison, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus all scored.
Brazil coach Tite said that there is fierce competition for places with the Qatar World Cup a little over five months away.
“It was difficult to put together the starting XI. Everyone here wants to make the World Cup squad and has been playing well,” said Tite, who started Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro just days after he won the Champions League.
“Even after talks with my staff, it was not easy to choose the starting line-up.
“Our objective is to reach the final at the World Cup and it’s our dream to win the tournament,” he added.
Brazil, ranked number one in the FIFA rankings, fielded a strong side and looked dangerous almost from the opening seconds with a header by Thiago Silva wiped out by an offside call.
Brazil took advantage of poor South Korean defending to take the lead on seven minutes.
Alex Sandro was left open as he charged into the left side of the box and he set up Fred for a shot from close range. The Manchester United midfielder misfired but the ball took a fortuitous bounce to Richarlison, whose scrappy effort deflected in off goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu.
Bordeaux forward Hwang Ui-jo levelled the score for the hosts on the half-hour mark, turning and firing it in off the left post with a smart finish.
But that goal came against the run of play and Brazil went ahead again on 42 minutes.
South Korean defender Lee Yong was called for a foul on Sandro inside the box and after a video review Neymar stepped up, nonchalantly putting his penalty to the left of goalkeeper Kim.
Neymar scored his second penalty on 57 minutes, once again after a VAR intervention and again rolling the ball to Kim’s left, the ball almost dribbling into the net.
Substitutes Coutinho — who had come on for Neymar — and Jesus added gloss to the scoreline with two well-taken strikes.
– Son award –
Prior to the match, Tottenham’s Son was awarded South Korea’s highest sporting honour, the Cheongnyong Medal, by President Yoon Suk-yeol.
Tite said that keeping the South Korean dangerman Son quiet had been vital.
“We knew South Korea would try to rely on Son Heung-min as much as possible,” he said.
“When he was playing on the left wing we put Dani Alves on him, with Casemiro and Marquinhos also helping out.
“He is a great finisher and he could have been a dangerous player against us. That he scored 23 goals in the Premier League (last season) shows the kind of player he is.”
Brazil next play Japan, in Tokyo, on Monday.