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Home   /   Richarlison shines as Brazil overturn stubborn Serbia in World Cup opener

When the last World Cup kicked off in Russia four years ago, Richarlison had just completed his first – and only – season with Watford in the Premier League. He was widely considered the star man in Javi Garcia’s squad at the time and his form attracted interest from a number of other clubs. But, he was nowhere near good enough to make his senior international debut, especially on the biggest stage of them all.

His World Cup heartbreak back then didn’t hinder his career prospects, if anything it spurred him on – no pun intended – and he went on to sign for Everton just a few months after his country was knocked out at the quarter-final stage in Kazan. Richarlison has since become one of the Premier League’s shining stars, so for Brazil manager Tite, including him in the Seleção Canarinho squad this month was a no brainer. 

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Inevitably, that decision has paid off in the best possible way. The now-Tottenham star marked his cup debut with a brace to sensationally lead his country to a 2-0 win over a stubborn Serbia side on Wednesday.

His first goal was the product of a fantastic period of team play which culminated in a perfectly placed finish. 

But, it was the second that stole the headlines.

Alex Sandro kicked off the move in defence, setting the ball to Vinicius Jr on the left. The Real Madrid superstar then carried the ball towards the corner flag before sending a cross into Richarlison. There was then a moment of sheer magic as the No.9 flicked the ball up before making perfect contact to volley it past a helpless Vanja Milinković-Savić and into the back of the net.

The Lusail Stadium erupted, the team erupted and even Tite was thrilled with the outcome as his side sealed all three points.

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But, the victory wasn’t just down to Richarlison’s excellence. Every Brazilian on that pitch played a part. Vinicius was excellent when it came to both driving the team forward and tracking back, veteran centre-back Thiago Silva was the glue that held the back four made up of Danilo, Marquinhos and Sandro together and Casemiro was fantastic when it came to unlocking the Serbia defence with some outstanding passes. Neymar, as always, was also fantastic, but his game was cut short when he hobbled off with an ankle injury with just over 10 minutes to go.

The Paris Saint-Germain talisman was in tears as he slumped onto the bench in the 79th minute. It was evident that he was in some discomfort as medical staff gathered around him to treat the visibly swollen right ankle. 

At full-time, Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar revealed that the playmaker is set to undergo a scan on Thursday morning to assess the extent of any damage. He said: “Neymar had an injury on the right ankle, direct trauma. Due to the shock that he had with the knee of the Serbian player, we started immediately the treatment on the bench. He continued with the treatment with the physiotherapy.

“We need 24-48 hours to have a better understanding through the MRI. Tomorrow we will have a new assessment. Now we need to wait, we cannot make any premature comments on his evolution. We need to wait.”

While Neymar himself refused to comment on his injury after the game, Tite was optimistic that he will be back in action before the group stages conclude. In his post-match press conference, he said: “Don’t worry, Neymar will play the World Cup. He will keep playing, you can be sure about that,” much to the relief of Brazilians across the world.

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On previous occasions, Brazil fans would have been knocked for six had something similar happened to their star man. But, this year is different. Brazil’s overall quality and sheer strength in depth has made them one of the favourites to win the tournament – with or without Neymar in the starting line-up. Tite could field a completely different line-up of equal strength with just his substitutes from Wednesday’s game. Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Fred, Rodrygo and Gabriel Martinelli all made an appearance off the bench, while Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, Bruno Guimaraes, Fabinho and Eder Militao were also available.

Brazil legend Gilberto Silva put it perfectly, he told BBC Sport: “I think that results like these show they are in good shape to go for the trophy. If the players on the pitch cannot solve the problems, they have the players on the bench.”

Tite could decide to switch things up slightly heading into Monday’s game against second-placed Switzerland. Richarlison could remain as the preferred No.9 following his superb World Cup debut, but in-form Martinelli or Antony could be introduced to add a new attacking dynamic. Rodrygo could also be selected to start in midfield in place of Neymar, especially if the PSG star is forced to sit out. 

While Brazil still appear to be one of the top teams to contend with, Tite and his players won’t want to get complacent – we’ve already seen what can happen as a result. Over the past five days the World Cup has produced some shocking results with Argentina and Germany suffering surprise defeats to Saudi Arabia and Japan respectively. Each team lacked a hunger and determination to win – the things that Brazil were so keen to showcase from the first whistle.

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Yes, Tite’s side remain the favourites – Argentina and Germany, not so much – but the group stages are far from over. Brazil still have Switzerland and Cameroon to face, but Tite, as ever, remains optimistic.

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May 2024