2-0 against Serbia: Brazil’s magical exclamation point

An late Thursday evening, when the stadium announcer called out the names of the national players from Brazil, the answer could be heard. And she was unmistakable even to those at Lusail Stadium who don’t speak Portuguese. The men and women in yellow cried out as euphorically as if they had just seen the face of a saint. And from their point of view, this comparison is perhaps not so wrong. On the big screens in the stadium, they at least saw the soccer player with the number ten for a moment: Neymar. The euphoric screaming was then also the answer to the question that was negotiated before this World Cup not only in Brazil: How do you feel about Neymar now that he has been busy encouraging the incumbent and anti-democrat Jair Bolsonaro before the presidential election?

On the first Brazilian night in Qatar, alongside the answer, there were also new questions: How many of the fans in the stadium were really from Brazil, where they sang diatribes about Neymar on the night Bolsonaro was voted out? And how many were from Bangladesh, India, Nepal or Pakistan – from the countries where Neymar is still a hero for almost everyone? You had to leave these sports-political points open – and instead you could make a sporting statement: Neymar doesn’t seem to be bothered by such discussions, because it was he who initiated the 2-0 win against Serbia. Even if the hero was someone else.

It really is a political World Cup in Qatar, but tonight one of the most political figures has been depoliticized for at least 90 minutes. The fans in Lusail celebrated Neymar’s football skills, although the Serbs were able to limit them somewhat until the 63rd minute. But then Neymar dribbled into the penalty area. The ball slipped a little off his foot there, but that worked out quite well because Vinicius Junior was already waiting. He immediately shot on goal. The Serbian goalkeeper Vanja Milinković-Savić was able to fend off the first attempt. But not the second from Richarlison.

Richarlison sets the climax with a side pull

In the first half, the Serbs bravely defended their own goal (but also left the foreign one in peace). In the second half you could see how the Brazilian punches went through cover almost attack after attack. It all started in the 48th minute when defensive midfielder Nemanja Gudelj tackled the sprinting Neymar (and shortly afterwards had to be substituted due to a yellow-red threat). That continued with left-back Alex Sandro’s shot off the post and Richarlison’s first goal.

And that culminated in the 63rd minute with Richarlison’s second goal. Vinicius Junior crossed the ball into the middle with the outside of his foot, where Tottenham Hotspur striker Richarlison stopped it in mid-air, pirouetted and then slammed the ball into the net with a side kick. A spectacular goal. You could also say: a Brazilian one.

“It’s crazy, that’s what you dream of as a child, scoring a goal like that in a place like that,” said the double goalscorer. “We managed to turn the tables in the second half and decide the game. I was scared not to come here at all,” said the attacker, who had been injured for a long time.

They didn’t continue to play so beautifully, but still beautifully enough. Sure, national coach Tite was also able to substitute attackers Fred (Manchester United), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal FC) and Antony (Manchester United). And allow yourself the luxury of not nominating Firmino (Liverpool FC) in the first place.

It should be mentioned that that night it was not only very interesting how the Brazilians attacked, but also how they defended. Most of the time, Casemiro, the man who had previously watched the backs of artists Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić in Madrid, caught the ball, leaving centre-backs Marquinhos and Thiago Silva untouched. Yes, it was only Serbia and yes, it was only the first game, but: With a bouncer as strict as Casemiro in the middle, you can become world champions.

With someone like Neymar too, of course. He was allowed to leave the game prematurely in the 79th minute to applause. But by then he and his fellow players in Lusail had hinted at what they might be capable of in the coming weeks.

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