Brazil 2-0 Serbia (Richarlison ’62, ’73)
Qatar 2022 has finally begun. The first appearance of Brazil is a validating stamp like no other. The sense of anticipation along the boulevard bordering the Lusail Stadium was supercharged in a way that evoked the walk to the ring of the heavyweight champ. The night took a while to get going but in the championship rounds Richarlison went full Brazilian with an acrobatic scissor-kick bang on brand.
Though the accessibility of the players through the tech-heavy lens of the modern age has stripped Brazil of the old mystique the shirt is still profoundly yellow, the shorts azure blue and the socks brilliant white. The most celebrated colour combination in the history of the game is a strip so loaded with meaning and value it is almost worth a goal start. And it entitles the bearer to a base level of appreciation despite claims to the contrary by Brazilian men of letters.
The chasm between the political class, the intelligentsia and the people is never more apparent than at a football match. The idea that Neymar, Alisson, Thiago Silva or any other lavishly rewarded mega-star said to be affiliated with the failed presidential campaign of Jair Bolsonaro, might be skewered on their first appearance at Qatar 2022 never made it past the turnstiles.
The appropriation of the yellow shirt by Bolsonaro in his propaganda war with eventual winner Luiz Lula da Silva was a theft prosecuted at the ballot box. The fans are smart enough to know neither represent their interests and that, given half a chance, they would accept the same get out of favela card offered by the avaricious collectors of Brazilian talent in Europe.
Affection has its limits, however. Myth must always stand the test of now. Of the attacking weaponry that many argue sets this squad apart, only Neymar and Vinicius Jr of those in the starting line-up would pass the entrance exam at the Wizarding School of old, despite Richarlison’s tribute to the ancients.
Serbia did not have to be anything more than committed and organised to keep them out in a sluggish first half. Once Brazil’s early adrenaline rush had drained, Serbia found a neat offensive rhythm.
Indeed it might be a Brazilian quality too little acknowledged upon which they come to depend; their solidity in defence. The centre back pairing of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos, supported by Casemiro, one of the best beat cops in defensive midfield, is a hard redoubt to penetrate.
The game needed a goal, or at least a burst of Neymar. The lad obliged with a typical thrust that met with an agricultural response on the edge of the box. Vicinius Jr picked up the thread with a powerful dart to the byline surviving two attempts to dismember him before crossing. The crowd appreciated the injection of urgency. The drums started. Serbia suspected trouble was coming.
Sandro wacked a post from 30 yards on the hour then three minutes later Richarlison cleaned up after Vinicius Jnr’s shot was saved. Once breached Serbian belief drained. Richarlison’s contribution to the highlights reel ten minutes later was the signal for the “ole” phase to begin, a World Cup torment feared by all opponents.
Casemiro’s raking shot rebounding off a post represented the end of serious endeavour. Coach Tite made a raft of substitutions to see out the game and bring a close to the first round of group matches. Had Qatar 2022 saved the best until last? In second half moments, perhaps, teasing us with the promise of riches to come.