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

“You’re going to leave Pombo here alone,” laughed Tite. Brazil’s coach had just finished his media duties for the evening, espresso cup in 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 and waited for the call of nature.

“I’m trying to pee, it’s tough,” Richarlison said, though he wasted no time.

“I was able to call Ney and see how he is,” Richarlison revealed. Neymar had buried his head in his yellow and green shirt to hide tears after spraining his right ankle and “fooled” 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 to play in the World Cup”, past injuries in this competition are a haunting theme in his career and will hold him back.

Richarlison promised to stop by his room at the Westin before bed. “When I get to the hotel I’ll go and see how he is,” he said. Richarlison is unlikely to sleep, the rush of scoring the goal in the tournament unlikely to 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, possibly one of the finest goals of my career. It was a tough fight, so I think it was one of the finest of my career. Scissor kick is a Richarlison trademark after all. He even scored one at training camp in Turin last week.

“It’s the result of training,” Fred said in the mixed zone. “It’s not easy to get there and score. It is 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 teammates around him and said something had to change. “I told them I needed a ball and it came, I was ready and I was able to score.”

The first 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 contender for the role of Brazil’s starting striker, said the Tottenham Hotspur striker has essencia do brasileiro – the very essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved it.

On the metro going to the game, there were fans from all over the world on their way to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football as it should be played with flair and skill endures, it has a hold on the imagination.

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Wealthy Qatari in Brazil shirts wanted to show his kids what football is all about. Richarlison’s goal was just that, the manifestation of the Brazilian ideal that went back to Pele and Garrincha in 1958.

It started with a cross from the outside of the foot from Vinicius Jnr. Richarlison then stumped the ball with his left, lifted the ball high into the air, placed a hand on the floor and spun his right foot towards it, Capoeira style, hooking a shot past the beleaguered Milinkovic-Savic.

As with his first goal, the entire Brazil bench leapt out of the dugout and sprinted down to the corner flag to celebrate with him and the rest of the team.

Even Tite got carried away. “Sometimes emotions 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 that goal”.

He spoke of the physios, now working with Neymar, who helped get Richarlison back fit after the calf injury he suffered against former club Everton in mid-October.

Richarlison was “terrified”, panicked that it could disrupt his World Cup campaign. Tite was also worried.

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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 penalty that killed the match.

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

Trying to explain Serbia’s 2-0 defeat, their coach, the legendary Piksi Stojkovic, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (to choose from). We’re a small nation.” If Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic are injured and Aleksandar Mitrovic is not fully fit, that’s a problem.

Tite, on the other hand, rattled off 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 200m. “It’s a childhood dream come true,” smiled Richarlison.

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(Photo: Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)


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