© Reuters. Soccer Soccer – Qatar 2022 World Cup – Group G – Brazil v Serbia – Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar – November 24, 2022 Brazil’s Richarlison scores his second goal REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli
by Rohith Nair
LUSAIL, Qatar (Reuters) – Brazil cruised past Serbia 2-0 in their World Cup opener on Thursday as Richarlison’s second-half goals, including a stunning free-kick, sent the five-time champions top of Group G.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward has been in fine form when donning the golden yellow kit from Brazil this year and he opened the scoring with an easy tap-in before doubling the lead with his gymnastic effort.
It was his ninth goal for Brazil in seven games in 2022 as Brazil advanced to Switzerland, who are second in the group after they beat Cameroon 1-0. Serbia is at the bottom.
Tite’s decision to go with four strikers – Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Raphinha and Richarlison – in the forward line paid off as the South Americans dominated the game and made Serbia work hard every time they went forward.
Vinicius used his skill and pace to good effect to consistently beat his man while Neymar, playing in a free role, often found space in pockets, but a well-drilled Serbian defense kept Brazil at bay in the first half.
Brazil’s best chance of the half, however, came when Neymar tried to catch keeper Milinkovic-Savic off the pitch following a corner and blasted into the penalty area on target before the Torino man punched it clear.
Serbia had been sweating on the fitness of their all-time top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic, but coach Dragan Stojkovic named him in the starting line-up.
Unlike Brazil’s forward line, which threatened from all sides, the Fulham striker found himself isolated up front with little service as captain and playmaker Dusan Tadic struggled to influence the proceedings.
The second half was a one-way affair with Brazil going through the gears, Richarlison and Neymar missing golden chances inside the box and Alex Sandro and Casemiro sending long-range efforts against the woodwork.
The breakthrough came just after the hour after Neymar’s superb work to find Vinicius, whose initial shot was saved by Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, but Richarlison was in the right place to grab the rebound for his first World Cup goal.
Serbia had been playing conservatively until that point and had no choice but to push forward, giving Brazil more space and Richarlison’s late goal brought the biggest roar of the night from the Brazilian side.
As Richarlison tried to control a cross from Vinicius, the ball bounced over his head and he leaped into the air to deliver a bicycle kick to seal Brazil’s victory.
A near-perfect night for Brazil was soured, however, when Neymar came off in the 80th minute with what appeared to be an ankle injury following a powerful tackle from Nikola Milenkovic.
It was the same right leg that Neymar previously had problems with and the Paris St Germain forward sat on the bench with his face covered while receiving treatment as Brazil watched out for the match.