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

»You will leave Pombo alone here,” laughed Tite. The Brazil coach has just finished his media duties for the evening, empty cup of espresso in hand. “I won’t be able to hug Richarlison?” he said disappointed. The Brazilian match winner was tied up at the 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 was able to call Ney and see how he was,” 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 belief that Neymar will “continue to play at the World Cup”, past injuries at this competition have been a major theme of his career and will hold him back.

Richarlison promised to drop by his room at the Westin before bed. “When I get to the hotel, I’ll go see how he is,” he said. Richarlison is unlikely to sleep, the buzz of scoring a tournament goal unlikely to fade during the short bus ride from Lusail.

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“I think it was a nice 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 difficult match, so I think it was one of the most beautiful in my career.” Scissor kicks are Richarlison’s trademark though. He even scored one in the training camp in Turin last week.

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

Practice makes perfect. At halftime against Serbia, with the score 0-0, Richarlison gathered his teammates around him and said that something had 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 Vinij Jr.’s 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 essenza do brasileiro — the very essence of a Brazilian. This goal proved it.

In the metro going to the match there were fans from all over the world who were going to Lusail to watch Brazil. The idea that they play football as it should be with meaning and skill persists, it has an impact on the imagination.

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

It started with a cross from Vinicius Jnr., Richarlison then dazzled the ball down the left, lifted the ball high into the air, put his hand on the floor and turned his right foot towards it, Capoeira-style, slotting the shot past a grieving Milinković-Savic.

As with his first goal, the entire Brazilian bench jumped out of their boots 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. “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 on Neymar, who have helped Richarlison return to form following 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 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 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 like O’Professor (Tite) says,” Richarlison reminded everyone on Thursday night. He “smells” goals. That’s why he gets picked over Arsenal’s in-form Jesus.

Trying to explain the 2:0 loss to Serbia, their coach, the legendary Piksi Stojković, said: “We are not Brazil with 200 million people (to choose from). We are a small nation.” If Dušan Vlahović and Filip Kostić are injured, and Aleksandar Mitrović is not fully fit, that is a problem.

On the other hand, Tite discussed his options, in Qatar and those he left at home, such as 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 of the 200m. “This is a childhood dream come true,” smiled Richarlison.

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


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