Richarlison’s second-half goals earned World Cup favorites Brazil a deserved 2-0 win over Serbia in their Group G opener in Lusail.
The European side stifled the No 1-ranked team for over an hour but the Tottenham forward’s close-range finish after Vinicius Junior’s shot was pushed into his path by goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic finally brought Brazil their hard-fought lead.
Richarlison then lit up the Lusail Stadium in Qatar with a stunning strike on the turn that arrowed beyond the Serbia goalkeeper to double the advantage. His brilliant performance from him more than justified his selection of him as Brazil’s striker ahead of Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus.
Raphinha had earlier wasted chances to make the breakthrough either side of half-time, shooting tamely on both occasions, while Alex Sandro’s swerving effort from distance struck the foot of the post as Tite’s side pushed to break down a resolute Serbia team.
Brazil were defensively strong as they extended their unbeaten run in World Cup openers to 20 games. Although there will be bigger tests as the five-time champions seek to end their 20-year wait to win this tournament, this turned out to be a commanding start.
How Brazil broke down Serbia
For an hour, Serbia made it tough. By the end, it was difficult to remember that, so dominant were Brazil, so rampant were they in overwhelming their opponents. As soon as Serbia had to go in search of a goal, the gaps were there for them to exploit.
Vinicius looked so dangerous, creating all sorts of problems. Neymar had his moments from him, though his injury from him late in the game is a major concern. Such is the depth of attacking talent in this squad, however, optimism should be the prevailing emotion after this.
Jesus, Antony, Rodrygo and Gabriel Martinelli all came on as Brazil really started to enjoy themselves. Given that they looked robust at the other end of the pitch with Casemiro protecting the defence, this showed why many see them as the team to beat in Qatar.
Neymar set for MRI after ankle trauma
“Neymar had an injury on the right ankle, direct trauma,” said Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar in the post-match press conference. “Due to the shock that he had with the knee of the Serbian player, we immediately started the treatment on the bench.
“He continued the treatment with the physio. We need 24 to 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.”
Injury risks overshadowing win
This World Cup was supposed to be Neymar’s redemption song after two failed tilts at the trophy. This is likely to be his last chance and he came into the tournament in impressive form for Paris Saint-Germain. Now injury could put paid to his plans for him.
The sight of him slumped on the bench after being substituted and the images that have emerged from his swollen ankle are alarming. Even with 11 days until Brazil’s likely round-of-16 tie, there is little time for Neymar to recover and show his best form.
Brazil has other attacking options, though most are more suited to the wide positions than the No 10 role that Neymar has made his own. But this is about the individual as much as what Tite does next. A career-defining tournament is in danger of getting away from him.
Player of the match – Richarlison
Richarlison has made no secret of his passion for representing his country, often becoming emotional about it, and this was surely the night that he had been dreaming of for much of his life. Here he was, leading the line for Brazil and leading the way too.
There is talent around him in this team, players who will create opportunities. He had Vinicius to his left and Raphinha to his right, with Neymar conjuring in support. Richarlison’s job was to stay central and seize the chances when they came – that’s just what he did.
The first was the sort of poacher’s finish that Tite expects from him, nipping in ahead of the defender. But the second was so much more, a vicious strike. It hints at his confidence in him. In this mood, and with this support, Richarlison could have even better days ahead.
Brilliant Brazil – Opta stats
- Brazil are unbeaten in their opening game in each of the last 20 editions of the World Cup, winning 17 and drawing three.
- Brazil’s Neymar was fouled nine times in this match, at least four more fouls won than any other player at the 2022 World Cup so far.
- Serbia are one of four sides not to have had a shot on target at the 2022 World Cup so far.
- Richarlison has scored nine goals in his last seven appearances for Brazil in all competitions, becoming the eighth Brazilian to score a brace on his World Cup debut and the first since Neymar in 2014.
- Since his debut for the national side in September 2018, Richarlison has scored more goals in all competitions for Brazil than any other player (19).
- Before being subbed off in the final 15 minutes, Vinicius Junior had been involved in 50 percent of Brazil’s 16 shots in this match with four shots and four chances created.
Stojkovic: Brazil is the top team
“I think we were on an equal level in the first 45 minutes,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic. “They weren’t much more dominant at that stage. In the second half, we fell physically and we were no longer a team. Brazil knew how to take advantage of this. They punished us.
“We came here with a lot of problems in Qatar, we have a lot of injuries in not the right time for key players of our team. It’s the way it is, we have to face this fact. It’s defeating not to have 100 per cent of your players.And it’s obvious, you can see that.
“Brazil is the top team, there is no doubt about it. But again, we have shown in the first half that we can play this team. We don’t have [Aleksandar] Mitrovic or [Filip] Kostic at 100 percent. It would be a completely different story if they were. They are not ready, that’s the way it is.”
What else happened at the World Cup on Thursday?
In the other game in Group G, Switzerland kicked off the day with a 1-0 win over Cameroon thanks to a goal from Breel Embolo – a player born in Cameroon. After that, we were treated to a goalless draw between Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.
Portugal’s 3-2 win over Ghana was rather more entertaining with Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-half penalty proving the first of five goals after the break. The now former Manchester United player became the first man to score in five World Cups.