“You will leave Pombo here alone,” laughed Tite. The Brazil coach had just finished his media duties for the evening, cup of espresso in hand and drained. “I won’t be able to hug Richarlison?” he said disappointed. Brazil’s match winner was tied up in a doping test, awaiting nature’s call.
“I’m trying to pee, it’s hard,” Richarlison said, though he wasted no time.
“I could call Ney and see how he is,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar had buried his head in his yellow-green shirt to hide tears after spraining his right ankle, “fooling” Tite by playing through the pain barrier for another 11 minutes against Serbia. “I told him to put some ice on it,” Richarlison said as if he were part of Brazil’s medical staff.
Despite Tite’s belief Neymar will “keep playing at the World Cup”, past injuries at this competition have been a haunting theme of his career and will hold him back.
Richarlison promised to stop by his room at the Westin before going to bed. “When I get to the hotel I’ll go see how he’s doing,” he said. Richarlison probably won’t sleep, the buzz from the goal of the tournament unlikely to fade on the short bus ride from Lusail.
“I think it was a beautiful goal,” he said. “I have already scored such a goal for Fluminense and Everton. Today I had the opportunity to score an acrobatic goal, perhaps one of the most beautiful goals of my career. It was a difficult match, so I think it was one of the best of my career.” Scissor kicks are Richarlison’s trademark after all. He actually scored one in training camp in Turin last week.
“It’s the result of practice,” said Fred in the mixed zone. “It’s not easy to get there and score. It is the result of his and the entire team’s training.”
Practice makes perfect. At half-time against Serbia, the score still 0-0, Richarlison gathered his team-mates around him and said something had to change. “I told them I needed a ball and it arrived, I was ready and I managed to score.”
The first was a tap-in after Vanja Milinkovic-Savic knocked down a Vini Jnr shot. The second was something else. Earlier this week, Richarlison’s team-mate Pedro, a contender for the role of Brazil’s starting striker, said the Tottenham Hotspur striker has the essenza do brasileiro – the very essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved it.
On the subway going to the match, there were fans from all over the world going to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football as it should be played with passion and skill captures the imagination.
The wealthy Qataris in the Brazil jerseys wanted to show their children what football is all about. Richarlison’s goal was just that, the manifestation of the Brazilian ideal that goes back to Pele and Garrincha in 1958.
Starting with an outside leg cross from Vinicius Jnr, Richarlison then stun the ball with his left, lifted the ball high in the air, put a hand on the floor and turned his right foot on it, Capoeira style, making a shot. beyond the deceased Milinkovic-Savic.
As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench jumped out of the dugout and ran towards the corner flag to celebrate with him and the rest of the team.
Even Tite got carried away. “Sometimes feelings can’t be explained,” he said. “It’s feelings.” The 61-year-old, dressed in a cobalt blue suit, wanted to convey “how much work goes behind this goal”.
He spoke of the physios, now working on Neymar, who helped Richarlison return to fitness after the injury he suffered against former club Everton in mid-October.
Richarlison was “terrified”, panicked that it might disrupt his World Cup. Tite was worried too.
When Gabriel Jesus was sent off in the 2019 Copa América final against Peru, jeopardizing Brazil’s chances of winning the tournament, Richarlison stepped in and coolly scored the game-killing penalty.
He was top scorer in the 2020 Olympics when Brazil won the gold medal and Brazil’s top scorer in 2022. “It’s like O’Professor (Tite) says,” Richarlison reminded everyone on Thursday night. He “smells” a goal. That’s why he’s picked for Jesus in an Arsenal kit.
Seeking to explain Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Piksi Stojkovic, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (to choose from). We are a small nation.” If Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic are injured and Aleksandar Mitrovic is not fully fit, it is a problem.
On the other hand, Tite has been splashing out on his options, in Qatar and those he left at home, such as Copa Libertadores winner Gabriel Barbosa, Roberto Firmino, Mateusz Cunha and Hulk. It serves to underline the competition that Richarlison made the No.9 jersey his own.
It is one in 200m. “It’s a kid’s dream come true,” smiled Richarlison.
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(Photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)