It’s fair to observe that any World Cup can never really start until Brazil have played. The magic of this most famous of tournaments never truly hits its peak until the Selecao’s stardust is sprinkled upon it.
At this one, here in Qatar, the real tournament kicked off five days in with the five-time winners - and opponents Serbia - the 31st and 32nd teams to get their campaigns off and running. They had top billing. After the undercard, the main event.
For the swathes of yellow streaming into Lusail Stadium it wasn’t a moment too soon, the sight and sound and samba of it so synonymous with this grandest of stages.
On the pitch the pressure, as it always is, remains on Neymar. The talisman of talismans is of course still the star attraction, the mere mention of his name ahead of kick-off enough to deafen anyone within this cacophonous arena who could hear it. Almost exactly the same age Pele was when he won the third of his three World Cups, if Brazil are to end their 20-year wait for the trophy they desire more than any other, you feel it will still come on the strength of another all-time great No 10’s otherworldly powers, although an ankle injury picked up late in the game is now a live concern.
But, unlike in so many years previous, this time he has help. Old stagers like Casemiro and Alex Sandro, veterans of tried and failed attempts to get over the top before, remain but this current crop has been electrified with new life with the likes of Vinicius Jr, Raphinha and Gabriel Jesus emerging as more than able support to the main act.
If the real Brazil will go on to reveal themselves later on in this tournament as they hope, the hints of a higher plane were still on show here albeit fleetingly in an otherwise frustrating first-half. The elegance of Casemiro’s distribution, the spark in Vinicius’ change of pace, the nutmegs of Neymar.
Serbia, to their credit, were in no mood to be the fall guys. Their place in Qatar was hard won and they fought tooth and nail here. Two, three and even four were deployed to shadow Neymar’s every touch, any chink in the armour, any rogue touch, pounced upon.
Chances came and went, Vinicius and Raphinha erring when calmer heads would surely have prevailed. Sandro clattered a post from distance. Neymar, the deity, proved he was human after all with an incredibly uncharacteristic miscue.
But as the nerves rose, finally the relief.
Richarlison’s wouldn’t be the first Brazilian forward’s name you would conjure out of thin air from the annals. He wouldn’t even be the first beginning with R. But if the first goal to break the deadlock - a tap in after a rebounded shot from Vinicius - wasn’t worthy of those great No 9s of the past, his second well and truly was.
Flicking the ball up and twisting to meet it over his shoulder in one movement, Richarlison’s sensational overhead kick volley to double the lead and decisively seal the win was as special as any World Cup goal you could mention.
Pele, Carlos Alberto, Ronaldinho. Brazilian goals are so often what World Cups are remembered for. This one, even this early, may be remembered for Richarlison’s.
This tournament may be a five days old, but now the World Cup can truly begin. Brazil have arrived.
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