A brilliant first quarter of an hour was all it took for the Seleçao to clinch their place in the semi-final of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. At Dubai’s Rashid Stadium, the Brazilians stuck three goals past a shell-shocked Japanese side in the first 15 minutes. Daniel Carvalho, then Nilmar and Kleber had the Asian outfit seeing stars, placing Marcos Paqueta’s boys well and truly in the driving seat. All they then had to do was switch to cruise control and sit back as the Japanese spent the rest of the game struggling to rediscover their accustomed swagger. In the semi-final, the Auriverdes will meet Argentina in Abu Dhabi on 15 December.

Latecomers to the second match of the evening at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium were left cursing their luck, as with scarcely two minutes on the clock, Daniel Carvalho was pushed just outside the penalty area. The Internacional striker took the free kick himself and whipped a fierce low shot that struck the post before ending up in the Japanese net (1-0, 3’).

The dazed Japanese were well and truly courting catastrophe. From another free kick, Kleber, unmarked at the far post, placed a header into the Japanese net from an impossible angle, but the referee disallowed the goal, adjudging that the ball had gone out of play (8’).

Now the Japanese defence was totally at sixes and sevens, as Daniel broke free down the right, cut into the box and unleashed a shot straight at Eiji Kawashima. When the ball rebounded to the feet of Daniel Carvalho, he was the last man to look a gift horse in the mouth (2-0, 13’). “We committed a cardinal sin on this goal,” confessed Kiyoshi Okhuma after the game. “At this level, such mistakes do not go unpunished.”

The Japanese were yet to set foot in the Brazilian half with the ball, and the torture was not over yet. After a shot from Adailton was tipped over by the Japanese keeper (14’), Kleber took advantage of the general disarray in the Asian defence to deposit the ball in their opponent’s goal bank for a third time (3-0, 15’). The Japanese had no idea what had hit them, and even less what to do about it. Despite partially rousing themselves from their torpor, they were unable to create any real chances. The Auriverdes, in contrast, had a relaxed air more associated with a practice match.

But the gods had clearly decreed that the nightmare of the Asian region runners-up was to be unrelenting. After instigating a lovely one-two inside the box, Nilmar latched onto the return and shot. His strike deflected off Makoto Kakuda and looped over the stranded Kawashima (4-0, 34’).

Upon returning from what must have been an interminable interval, the Japanese, to their credit, tried to make a fist of it. Sota Hirayama was on the receiving end of two good passes (49’ and 50’) but failed to convert. Then it was the turn of Norio Suzuki to try his luck from a long punt upfield from Sho Naruoka, but his half-volley sailed harmlessly wide (59’).

Disheartened by this string of misses, shoulders within the team from the Land of the Rising Sun began to droop somewhat. The Brazilians reasserted control of the tie, but due to the lack of any need for them to dictate the play, the pace of the game became somewhat pedestrian. Right at the death, the frenetic mood of the opening fifteen minutes was briefly recaptured, as Hirayama headed a consolation goal from a corner (4-1, 89’), only for Nilmar to immediately take advantage of a fine run from Dagoberto and dupe Kawashima to re-establish the four-goal cushion (5-1, 90’). In doing so, the Brazilians achieved the highest score of the competition so far.

That was more than enough to delight Marcos Paqueta. “We made this match easy by scoring very early. The team is getting better and better, we were good both collectively and individually. We are close to being at 100% of our capabilities,” asserted the coach of the Auriverdes.

In stark contrast, a deflated Okhuma who was quick to acknowledge the superiority of his opponents: “The individual strength and speed of the Brazilian players make them the best team in the tournament. We learned this the hard way tonight. But I want to thank my players for their achievements in the competition as a whole. They have picked up invaluable experience here.”