“You’re going to leave Pombo here alone,” Tite laughed. Brazil’s coach had just finished his media duties for the evening, the espresso cup in his hand drained. “I’m not going to be able to hug Richarlison?” he said, disappointed. Brazil’s match winner was tied up in an anti-doping control, waiting for the call of nature.
“I’m trying to pee, it’s tough,” Richarlison said, although he didn’t let the time go to waste.
“I was able to call Ney and see how he is,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar had buried his head in his yellow and green jersey to hide the tears after spraining his right ankle, “tricking” 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 a member of Brazil’s medical staff.
Despite Tite’s confidence Neymar will “continue playing in the World Cup”, past injuries in this competition are a haunting theme of his career and will be keeping him up.
Richarlison promised to swing by his room at the Westin before bed. “When I get to the hotel I’m going to go see how he’s doing,” he said. Richarlison probably won’t sleep, the buzz from scoring 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’ve already scored a goal like that for Fluminense and Everton. Today I had the opportunity to score an acrobatic goal, possibly one of the nicest goals of my career. It was a tough match so I think it was one of the nicest of my career.” Scissor kicks are a Richarlison trademark, after all. Wait a minute scored one at a training camp in Turin last week.
“It’s the result of practice,” Fred said in the mixed zone. “It’s not easy to get there and score. It’s the result of his training and the whole group.”
Practice makes perfect. At half-time against Serbia, the score still 0-0, Richarlison gathered his team-mates around him and said something needed to change. “I told them I needed a ball and it arrived, I was ready and I managed to score.”
The first one was a tap-in after Vanja Milinkovic-Savic spilled a Vini Jnr shot. The second was something else. Earlier this week, Richarlison’s team-mate Pedro, a competitor 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 game, there were fans from all over the world heading to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea they play football as it should be played with flair and skill endures, it has a hold on the imagination.
Affluent Qataris in Brazil shirts wanted to show their kids what football is all about. Richarlison’s goal was exactly that, the manifestation of the Brazilian ideal going back to Pele and Garrincha in 1958.
It started with an outside of the foot cross from Vinicius Jnr, Richarlison then stunned the ball with his left, lifted the ball high into the air, placed a hand on the floor and spun his right foot at it, Capoeira style, hooking a shot past the bereft Milinkovic-Savic.
As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench leapt out of the dug-out and sprinted down 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. “They’re feelings.” The 61-year-old, dressed in a cobalt blue suit, wanted to convey “how much work there is behind that goal.”
He spoke about the physios, now working on Neymar, who helped get Richarlison back in shape after the calf injury he suffered against former club Everton in mid-October.
Richarlison was “scared”, panic stricken that it might disrupt his World Cup. Tite was concerned too.
When Gabriel Jesus got sent off in the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, potentially jeopardizing Brazil’s chances of winning the competition, Richarlison came on and coolly scored the penalty that killed the game.
He was top scorer at 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” of goals. That’s why he gets picked over Arsenal’s in-form Jesus.
Seeking to explain Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Piksi Stojkovic, said: “We’re not Brazil with 200m people (to choose from). We’re a small nation.” If Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic are injured and Aleksandar Mitrovic isn’t fully fit, it’s a problem.
Tite on the other hand was rattling off his options, in Qatar and the ones he left at home like the Copa Libertadores winning striker 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 is a child’s dream come true,” Richarlison smiled.
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(Photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)