LUSAIL, Qatar — Not all goals sound the same. Sometimes, the noise they generate is one of joy, giddy and delighted. Sometimes, it is more guttural, not so much a celebration as a growl of defiance. At others, it is a sough of grateful relief. And very occasionally, it is something different: not an exhalation but a drawing of the breath. Sometimes, it is the sound of wonder.
For a little more than an hour, Brazil had toiled to overcome Serbia. The last of the heavyweights to start this tournament, Brazil had entered it with a head of steam: beaten only once in three years, untouchable for 18 months, expected to sweep aside anything standing that stood in the way of its long-awaited sixth World Cup.
Here it was, though, in front of a partisan and expectant crowd, grinding its way to an uninspiring win against an obdurate, but limited, opponent. It had the lead, thanks to the sort of gnarled, forgettable goal the game had merited, but it was hardly the sort of emphatic statement that had been anticipated.
Everything changed in a single instant. Vinicíus Junior burst down the left wing. With the outside of his right boot, he fizzed a low cross toward Richarlíson, the scorer of the first goal. As it traveled, the ball clipped an outstretched Serbian leg; only a little, but enough to change its trajectory.
Richarlíson did his best to readjust. The ball skipped off his foot and spun into the air. And then, instinct taking over, he leaped from the ground, twisting and contorting his body in a pirouette, and as the ball reached its apex he met it with a full, pure volley. It flashed past the outstretched arm of Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Serbia’s helpless goalkeeper. The Lusail stadium, as one, pursed its lips and inhaled. Brazil, ever so slightly belatedly, had arrived.
There is a distinct possibility that moment will be seen, in a little less than a month, as the moment that Brazil’s campaign in Qatar caught light. Richarlíson is, to some extent, the most disposable member of Tite’s glittering forward line, not so much because of any shortcoming on his part but because of the vaguely obscene options available ahead of him.
Neymar, of course, is the star of the Brazil’s show, the player that plenty of those flooding into the Lusail had come to see — his name, when the teams were read out before the game, was greeted by a cheer roughly twice as loud as anyone else — but he is, unlike in the previous iterations of the Seleçao that have dotted his career, not alone.
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