Brazil’s Richarlison powered his side to a 2-0 victory against Serbia at the Lusail Stadium as the tournament’s favourites opened their World Cup campaign in sparkling style.
The 25-year-old striker opened the Selecao’s account just after the hour mark in Thursday evening’s Group G fixture and went on to add a spectacular second shortly afterwards in the 73rd minute.
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The latter strike saw the Tottenham Hotspur forward convert a cross from winger Vinicius Jr by popping the ball up over his head before leaping up in the air to volley home a stunning bicycle kick, sending the tens of thousands of Brazilian fans crammed inside the 89,000-capacity arena into raptures and effectively ending any hopes of a comeback.
Serbia, who had offered staunch resistance for the first two-thirds of the game, were left to chase shadows in the final throws as Brazil’s players zipped the ball around and staged regular raids on their opponents’ box, underlining their credentials as the most dangerous side in the competition.
Serbia, for their part, had been sweating over the fitness of their all-time top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic but coach Dragan Stojkovic named him in the starting lineup.
Unlike Brazil’s forward line, however, which threatened from all sides, the Fulham striker found himself isolated up front with little service.
Neymar limps off
Brazil coach Tite started with an attack-minded squad that included four forwards – Neymar, Vinicius Jr, Raphinha and Richarlison. Attacking midfielder Lucas Paqueta played alongside Casemiro, the lone defensive midfielder.
But Serbia had several players back and were able to keep the men in yellow from creating many significant opportunities. Neymar tried to control the pace but struggled to find space up front. He, Vinicius Jr and Raphinha all squandered chances early on.
Brazil’s best chance before Richarlison’s opening goal had been a low long-range shot by Alex Sandro that hit the post in the 60th minute. Neymar had his best opportunities with a free kick and shot from near the penalty spot in the preceding 10 minutes.
The 30-year-old has arrived at his third World Cup as Brazil’s main attraction having helped the Selecao win the 2013 Confederations Cup and its first Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
But he has yet to win a major title with the national team, and there was cause for concern over his participation in this year’s competition when he limped out of the action in the 80th minute after receiving a knock to the ankle.
It was the same right foot Neymar has had problems with before, and the Paris St Germain forward sat on the bench with his face covered while he received treatment as Brazil saw out the match.
Their win leaves them top of Group G, followed by Switzerland in second place after the European side’s victory over Cameroon earlier on Thursday.
The South American giants, who are in search of a sixth World Cup win, will play next on Monday against Switzerland. Serbia play Cameroon on the same day.