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Richarlison justifies No9 selection as Brazil arrive at World Cup

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ittle more than a month ago, Richarlison limped away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on crutches and in tears.

Spurs had just beaten his former club, Everton, but it had not been a happy reunion for the summer signing, who hobbled off the field early, struggling with a calf problem and fearing for his World Cup dream.

Here at Lusail Stadium it came to life as the forward marked his tournament debut with both goals in a 2-0 win over Serbia, the first of them scrappy, the second sensational, an early goal of the tournament contender.

Even Tottenham boss Antonio Conte said he had gone home deflated that night in October, full of sympathy and concern for his young player, having missed out on Euro ’96 with Italy through injury himself.

The journey to No9 had been a long one for Richarlison, who was still a Watford player when his country last played a World Cup game. Gradually, over the four years since Russia, the 25-year-old had seen off all-comers to make the jersey his own, only to almost feel it peeled over his shoulders by fate at the last.

Thankfully – and as should, by now, be apparent – the injury proved minor, the scare a false alarm. For the rest of the World Cup’s leading contenders however, by full-time the warning was very real: Brazil have arrived.

They were not at their fluent best from the outset, with a tactical rigidity to Tite’s side’s first-half play. Pause the game at any moment and you’d have a fair stab at predicting exactly where on the pitch every player in yellow – bar the roaming Neymar – would be.

The wingers, El Clasico rivals in Raphinha and Vincius Jr., stayed high and wide, not the types to drift inside and give a marker the slip between the lines. That sort of thing is, after all, for conmen and cowards. Give me the ball to feet, let me line you up one-on-one, and beat you.

Which is all very well, unless you don’t and neither got a great deal of change out of their respective wing-backs. In fact, both had their best openings carved by fine passes from deeper, Thiago Silva sliding in Vinicius only for the onrushing Vanja Milinković-Savić to thwart the Brazilian at his feet, before Raphinha planted straight at the Serbian ‘keeper after getting on the end of a slick first-time return from the excellent Lucas Paqueta.

There were nearly moments in many build-ups, but it was just about Brazil’s only clear-cut chance before the break. Seconds after it, Raphinha wasted a better one, robbing Strahinja Pavlović but again fluffing his finish.

With another two attacks’ worth of frightening talent at his disposal, you wondered whether Tite might blink early but stability has been a unique feature of this particular Brazil manager’s reign and just after the hour-mark his reward came. Neymar jinked and for once was neither tackled nor fouled. He overran the ball slightly, but Vinicius was alive, stepping in to curl low towards goal, where Milinković-Savić parried, but straight to Brazil’s No9.

If that was a poacher’s goal most synonymous with the number, then what followed was most befitting of the shirt. Vinicius provided the assist off the outside of his boot, though to say he made the goal would be a stretch. His cross was behind Richarlison, but the striker simply stuck out a boot, flipped it up into the air and volleyed acrobatically home.

Tite did eventually flex Brazil’s offensive muscle, finishing the game with an entirely refreshed front-four of Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo, Antony and Gabriel Jesus. All four would start for many countries at this tournament, but after tonight, there can be no arguing with Tite’s choice of leading man.

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