Richarlison shows why he’s one in 200 million for Brazil

“You will leave Pombo I’m here,” Tite laughed. The Brazil coach had just finished his evening media duties, and the espresso cup in his hand was drained. “I won’t be able to hug Richarlison?” he said disappointedly. The Brazilian match winner was tied up in anti-doping control, waiting for nature’s call.

“I’m trying to pee, it’s hard,” Richarlison said, though he didn’t let the time go to waste.

“I managed to call Ney and see how he is,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar buried his head in his yellow and green jersey to hide tears after spraining his right ankle, “fooling” Tite by playing through the pain barrier for 11 more 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 confidence that Neymar “will continue to play at the World Cup”, past injuries at the competition have been a nagging theme in his career and will keep him going.

Richarlison promised to stop by his room at the Westin before bed. “When I get to the hotel I go to see how it is,” he said. Richarlison probably won’t sleep, and the buzz from scoring a tournament goal probably won’t wear off on the short bus ride from Lusail.

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“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 in my career. It was a tough match so I think it was one of the most beautiful in my career.” Still, scissor kicks are Richarlison’s trademark. He even scored one at the training camp in Turin last week.

“That’s the result of practice,” Fred said in the mixed zone. “It’s not easy to come and score a goal. It is the result of his training and the whole group.”

Practice makes perfect. At halftime against Serbia, the score still 0-0, Richarlison gathered his teammates around him and said that something needs to change. I told them I needed the ball and it arrived, I was ready and I managed to score.

The first was a tap-in after Vanja Milinković-Savić spilled a shot to Vini Jnr. The second was something else. Earlier this week, Richarlison’s team-mate Pedro, who is vying for the role of Brazil’s starting striker, said the Tottenham Hotspur striker has essenza do brasileiro – the very essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved it.

On the metro going to the match, there were fans from all over the world who had made their way to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football the way it should be played with flair and skill persists, has the power of imagination.

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Wealthy Qataris in Brazilian jerseys wanted to show their children what football is. Richarlison’s goal was just that, a manifestation of the Brazilian ideal since Pele and Garrinch in 1958.

It started on the outside of Vinicius Jnr’s footed cross, Richarlison then dazzled the ball with his left, lifted the ball high into the air, put his hand on the floor and spun his right foot towards it, capoeira-style, slotting the shot past the hijacked Milinkovic-Savic.

As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench jumped out of the dugout and sprinted to 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 is behind that goal.”

He spoke of the physios, now working on Neymar, helping Richarlison return to form after the calf injury he picked up against former club Everton in mid-October.

Richarlison was “scared”, panicking that it could derail his World Cup. Tite was worried too.

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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 game-killing penalty.

He was the top scorer at the 2020 Olympics when Brazil won the gold medal and Brazil’s top scorer in 2022. “It’s as O’Professor (Tite) says,” Richarlison reminded everyone on Thursday night. It “smells” like goals. That’s why he was chosen over Arsenal’s form of Jesus.

Asked to explain Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Pixi Stojkovic, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (which we choose). We are a small nation.” If Dušan Vlahović and Filip Kostić are injured, and Aleksandar Mitrović is not in full form, that is a problem.

Tite, on the other hand, was smashing his options, in Qatar and those he left at home, such as Copa Libertadores strikers Gabriel Barbosa, Roberto Firmino, Matheus Cunha and Hulk. It serves to underline the competition Richarlison has seen off to make the No.9 shirt his own.

He 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)


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