“You will leave Pombo here alone,” laughed Tite. The Brazil coach had just finished his media duties for the evening, the espresso cup in his hand drained. “I won’t be able to hug Richarlison?” he said in frustration. Brazil’s match-winner was tied up in a doping control, waiting for nature’s call.
“I’m trying to pee, it’s hard,” Richarlison said, though he wasted no time.
“I was able to call Ney and see how he is,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar buried his head in his yellow and green shirt to hide tears after spraining his right ankle, “fooling” Tite into 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 a member of Brazil’s medical staff.
Despite Tite’s belief Neymar will “keep playing at the World Cup”, past injuries in this competition are a nagging theme of his career and will keep him on his toes.
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 you’re doing,” he said. Richarlison probably won’t sleep, the buzz from scoring the tournament goal unlikely to fade on the short bus ride from Lusail.
“I think it was a beautiful goal. “I have already scored such a goal for Fluminense and Everton. Today I had the chance to score an acrobatic goal, probably one of the most beautiful goals of my career. It was a tough match so I think it was one of the best of my career.” After all, scissor kicks are a Richarlison trademark. He even scored one at a training camp in Turin last week.
“It’s the result of practice,” Fred said in the mixed area. “It’s not easy to get there and score. It’s the result of his and the whole group’s training.”
Practice makes perfect. At half-time against Serbia, the score still 0-0, Richarlison gathered his teammates around him and said something had to change. “I told them I needed a ball and it came, I was ready and I managed to score.”
The first was a tap-in as Vanja Milinkovic-Savic spilled a shot to Vini Jnr. 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 essenza do brasileiro – the essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved this.
On the subway going to the game, there were fans from all over the world who were going to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football the way it should be played with flair and skill is enduring, it has captured the imagination.
The rich Qataris in Brazil jerseys wanted to show their children what football is all about. Richarlison’s aim was just that, the manifestation of the Brazilian ideal that goes back to Pele and Garrincha in 1958.
It started with an outside leg cross from Vinicius Jnr, Richarlison then shook the ball with his left, lifted the ball high into the air, put one hand on the floor and spun his right foot around it, Capoeira-style, to strike. past the missing Milinković-Savič.
As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench came out of the box and ran down to the corner flag to celebrate with him and the rest of the team.
Tite was also taken with him. “Sometimes feelings can’t be explained,” he said. “They are feelings.” The 61-year-old, dressed in a cobalt blue suit, wanted to convey “how much work is behind this goal”.
He spoke of the physique now working for Neymar, who helped Richarlison return to form following the injury he suffered against former club Everton in mid-October.
Richarlison was “terrified”, panicked that it could derail his World Cup. Tite was also concerned.
When Gabriel Jesus was sent off in the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, potentially jeopardizing Brazil’s chances of winning the competition, Richarlison stepped in and coolly scored the match-killing penalty.
He was the top scorer at the 2020 Olympics when Brazil won gold and Brazil’s top scorer in 2022. “It’s like O’Professor (Tite) says,” Richarlison reminded everyone on Thursday night. He “smells” goals. This is why he is chosen for Arsenal’s in-form Jesus.
Seeking to explain Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Pixi Stojkovic, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (to choose from). We are a small nation.” If Dushan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic are injured and Aleksandar Mitrovic is not fully fit, it is a problem.
Tite, on the other hand, was shaking up his options, in Qatar and those he left at home like Copa Libertadores-winning striker Gabriel Barbosa, Roberto Firmino, Matheus Cunha and Hulk. It serves to underline the competition Richarlison has faced to make the No.9 shirt his own.
He is one in 200 m. “It’s a kid’s dream come true,” smiled Richarlison.
- Follow the latest World Cup news, analysis, tables, fixtures and more here.
(Photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)