That is exactly what happened on Thursday night when the goal of this nascent World Cup also graced the Lusail Stadium two days after the excitement of the times. Where Saudi Arabia was still up against Argentina on Tuesday, the 73rd-minute spectacle erupted in Brazil against Serbia. It cemented Brazil’s 2-0 opening win. It came from Richarlison, the 25-year-old who has scored plenty of goals lately. It made people gasp and maybe even yell involuntarily.
It created a stadium noise that carried the unmistakable note of wonder and lasted longer than most such noises. It drove Tite, the long-time Brazil coach, into an endearing frenzy as he went to his staff to give them a group hug, later saying, “Sometimes feelings can’t be explained.” And it bestowed the Halls after the game the kind of sustained buzz you can’t get from the non-alcoholic beer they serve here at these stadiums.
“I think it was a nice goal,” Richarlison said of his bike spin from the center of the box. Mentioning previous and similar goals with club Fluminense in Brazil and Everton in England, he said: “Today I had the opportunity to score an acrobatic goal that was very, very beautiful, I think one of the most beautiful of my career. It was a very tough game for us, so I think it was one of the best goals I’ve ever scored.”
He’s scored 88 goals in club play, 19 in internationals and two of those 19’s on Thursday night so it’s a lot of goals to judge. “As our Professor Tite says, ‘You smell the gate,'” Richarlison said. “And it’s happening.” It was a treat for those who’d traveled to the stadium in anticipation of the beauty as they filled the pristine new tube cars and shiny new tube stations with that old, dependable, electric yellow .
What they saw and certainly appreciated on the way home in Portuguese and a bunch of other languages even managed to overshadow something difficult to overshadow. Neymar, Brazil’s most recognizable figure, now 30 and based in Paris, suffered a nasty ankle injury in the second half, played 11 minutes before his manager noticed, earned his manager’s praise for his pain tolerance and became a target a press conference appearance by a team doctor who said it was too early to say much.
“We are confident that Neymar will continue playing,” said Tite. “He’ll keep playing at the World Cup.” If so, he could help steer Brazil’s bid for their first World Cup in a yawning 20 years and continue Brazil’s record goals set by Pele at 77 and Neymar at 75 holds. If not, well there are other stars with electric savvy in electric yellow and both goals went on happy hikes through Vinicius Junior to Richarlison on Thursday.
That happened in the 62nd minute when Vinicius Junior, the 22-year-old marvel of energy and precision and Real Madrid dedication, notched a ball that Neymar had lost sight of on the left edge of the box and suddenly slammed it into goal, where Goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic reached out to save it before Richarlison easily poked it in.
It was 1-0 and people won’t remember that.
The unforgettable came 11 minutes later and it once again depended on Vinicius Junior’s creation. He operated from the left wing, of course, and this time he slid a sighted-eye bullet through a narrow corridor of human obstacles. It found its way to Richarlison in the middle of the box, and then came the whoa.
Richarlison set it up with his left foot and ticked it in the air. Then he spun around, rotating his body and pedaling his right foot. It burned maybe not an inch down Serbian defender Milos Velijkovic’s left shoulder as Richarlison’s flying, flailing boot nearly bumped Velijkovic’s head. Maintaining its screaming line, it rushed just past the left post, with Milinkovic-Savic as helpless as any of Earth’s 8 billion in his late fall. For the second time in a short space of time, the entire Brazilian team gathered in the corner to celebrate.
“It goes up,” Tite said of the ball, “and he changes his whole plan,” and what skillful plan-executers they are.
The most prominent of the World Cup star teams, Brazil finally made their debut at this 22nd men’s World Cup, the 22nd for which Brazil has qualified. It had become the last of the big shots to start this World Championship with an odd placement on the calendar. His fans from around the world, plentiful upon plentiful, had arrived at their sing-song volume in the usual outpouring of Can’t Wait. With a couple of Serbs in red and blue in between, they had walked to Lusail Stadium, the futuristic structure that resembles a lit soap dish at night.
They saw Brazil, the standard favorites of the tournament, struggle through a first half without many wows with a more than capable Serbia. “At the break,” said Tite, the 61-year-old, who has been in charge of Brazil since 2016, “I had to tell my players to calm down because first we need one [lightness] that we had to pass the ball.”
He said, “We had to lower the adrenaline.”
They made changes to the positioning, and soon Assistant Cleber Xavier was saying, “We kept increasing the speed, expanding the moves and creating opportunities,” after which they created miracles.
Group G had left the starting gate with the Brazilians three points level with the Swiss and Richarlison declared “a wonderful night” with “a nice win” so “we have six games left to reach our goal” but first him would check on Neymar at the hotel. Serbia, who won their group in qualifying, “always had a lot of pressure” in the game, Tite said, “so it was a challenge for us.” All of this was a superb start towards Brazil’s bid, their record five World Cup titles to six, and with a gasp recalled that sometimes the reality of Brazil lives up to the idea.