Richarlison the inspiration as Brazil waltz past Serbia in their World Cup opener

Tottenham striker bags a double as the five-time champions dominate and delight

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Brazil danced off the bus and then did the two-step past Serbia.

Richarlison got the goals, the first opportune, the second outrageous. The slick South Americans, five-time champions, record unrivalled, were off on their quest for a sixth crown.

If other supposed favourites fell short in their World Cup opener, Brazil found a way. Serbia were at first rigid and resolute at an expectant Lusail Stadium on Thursday night, but there would be no repeat. Where Argentina and Germany came a cropper, their chief rivals for the title eventually cruised.

Ultimately, 2-0 felt a little flattering to Serbia, unfair to their conquerors.

They were certainly set up to forge forward. Richarlison was selected as spearhead, with Vinicius Jr, Neymar and Raphinha the three rovers behind. Just the Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona represented, then. It underlined Brazil’s ballast up top. With Lucas Paqueta in central midfield, it told of Tite’s intent.

Of Brazil’s riches, also. The Gabriels, Jesus and Martinelli, could make only the bench; so too Manchester United’s Antony and Madrid’s Rodrygo.

By the end, the ‘Oles’ were out, the crowd cheering the team’s every pass. Up against a Serbian side that demands respect, Brazil dominated and ultimately delighted. Richarlison’s match-winning contribution came in an 11-minute spell not long after the hour. It had taken a while, but it had been coming, too.

Brazil’s first shot on target came much, much earlier, and from an unlikely source. Not in that it arrived via the boot of Neymar, but that it was direct from a corner. The Brazilian was taunted loudly as he trotted over the take the set-piece right in front of the Serbian section of support, then almost curled the ball straight in. Goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic was forced to tip over. Neymar turned to his detractors and gave them a wry smile. You sensed he loved it.

Ten minutes before the break, Brazil’s best chance. Exchanging a one-two with West Ham United playmaker Paqueta, and with the goal seemingly opening up before him, Raphinha placed tamely at Milinkovic-Savic.

The Barcelona wideman had another right go after half-time. He latched on to some sloppy Serbian play in their own penalty area, but again could not slot his shot past the giant No 1. To Milinkovic-Savic’s credit, it was a good stop.

Brazil were enjoying themselves now; Serbia, unflagging through the first half, suddenly frayed. Neymar skewed wide from a Vinicius centre, then Alex Sandro sent a dipping effort from range cannoning off the post.

The crowd sensed a breakthrough. The majority, evidenced by the sea of yellow all around, craved it. And then it came. Vinicius' shot was parried by Milinkovic-Savic into Richarlison’s path and the Tottenham Hotspur striker duly obliged.

The Lusail shook. Richarlison, having initially disappeared beneath a flood of teammates, soon led them on a merry jig. In all honestly, they have been dancing to his tune for a while now: the goal made it eight in his past seven international appearances.

His haul swiftly swelled. Vinicius crossed with the outside of his boot to the forward, who controlled high with his left and then leapt around in the air to finish with his right. The goal was so good the replays on the giant screens sent a collective intake of breath around the stadium.

Arguably the best of the lot through the finals’ first five days – Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al Dawsari might have something to say – Casemiro attempted to challenge it. But his beautifully arched shot crashed on to the upright.

Substitute Fred then tried, only for Milinkovic-Savic to repel his curler. This time, Richarlison would not be there to gobble up the rebound; he was denied his hat-trick not by the Serbian stopper, but his manager. Tite took him off amid a slew of changes. On came Antony, Jesus and Rodrygo. Imagine having those options? The latter twice went close.

But Brazil settled for two. The departed as they arrived. With a skip in their step

Updated: November 24, 2022, 10:45 PM
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