Richarlison may have to justify his place as Brazil’s number nine to foreigners, but he used his debut on the World Cup stage to demonstrate exactly why coach Tite is unwavering in his admiration.
The Tottenham striker faces stiff competition for his place in the Qatar squad from Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus and Real Madrid’s Rodrygo, while Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino hasn’t even made the trip .
In a team brimming with attacking riches, Tite made Richarlison his first-choice striker to complement the gifts of Neymar and Vinicius Junior, and spearheaded the opener as tournament favorites with an impressive 2-0 victory against Serbia at the Lusail stadium.
Richarlison ended Brazil’s frustration with Serbia’s many defensive ranks when he surged after goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic denied Vinicius Junior’s shot just after the hour mark.
Then a real moment of magic happened, a talent that crossed the finest traditions of Brazilian football.
Richarlison initially failed to control Vinicius’ cross but readjusted instantly, taking flight and showing perfect technique and athleticism to deliver an unstoppable right-footed volley.
Richarlison’s second goal made it nine in his last seven appearances for Brazil, further proof of why he is held in such high regard by Tite and making him the first player from his country to score twice in a match. his World Cup debut since Neymar in 2014.
He is in some ways a workaholic surrounded by more flamboyant attacking talent, but Richarlison is the complete striker when he is at the top of his game, delivering a tireless work rate as well as high levels of skill.
Richarlison had a stop-start opening in his Spurs career following his £60m summer move from Everton, with injuries stalling his progress, but it was a performance that showed just how much he is an asset to Brazil and will be for his club team in the future.
Former England striker Alan Shearer told BBC Sport: “He’s a fit man in that yellow shirt. He’s yet to score in the Premier League for Spurs, but for Brazil he’s on fire.
“Richarlison’s positioning to pick up those little scrappy goals, the ones where the keeper is going to kick them in and around the penalty area, gives me as much satisfaction as the incredible second goal he scored.
“He’s in the right position. He gets his shot. Watch his movement. He’s the first to react like all good strikers are. It looks very simple but it’s not. finish. It’s very, very good play as a centre-forward.”
Richarlison’s match-winning display also added to the weight of evidence suggesting that the strength and overall quality of the Brazilian squad make them favorites to lift the World Cup at this same stadium.
Neymar was busy but generally calm, and also appeared to be injured, while Vinicius was dazzled. They couldn’t make any breakthroughs of their own but helped Richarlison do the work to stifle Serbia’s hopes.
Brazil could have added more in the closing stages as Tite made the kind of changes that will make their rivals wince in jealousy at their strength in depth, introducing Arsenal’s Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli, Manchester United pair Antony and Fred and Rodrygo from Real.
Manchester United’s Casemiro showed all his vast experience, hitting the woodwork with Alex Sandro, while behind them are Chelsea veteran Thiago Silva and excellent Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker, who had no save to make .
Brazil’s army of fans are still waiting for the World Cups and their first game in any tournament carries a touch of sports theatre. Their yellow shirts flooded the Lusail stadium before kick-off and were scattered through the crowd of over 88,000.
They hope, for good reasons, to return to this venue for the final.
If the Brazilian players were weighed down by expectations, it didn’t show amid remarkably relaxed scenes when they arrived before kick-off.
When the team bus stopped in the tunnel, the team members joined together in a dance before disembarking. When Neymar entered the locker room, he was joined by teammate Raphinha in a samba.
Nervously crusted over the World Cup? Not exactly.
And there was a glorious outpouring of Brazilian cheer for each of Richarlison’s goals, as squad members and squad rushed to the corner flag to overwhelm the goalscorer. It was a real show of unity and celebration.
When Neymar entered the stadium he was wearing a garish pair of glittering gold headphones. His time will come here in Qatar – but that night it was Richarlison who stood out as Brazil’s golden boy.