BUT perhaps a little presumptuously, Lusail Stadium, the huge and striking mother center of this tournament, insists on calling itself iconic. It was Iconic before the only pre-World Cup event of his life, an embarrassing ordeal that, characteristically, lacked water. Fair. Perhaps one day each stadium will become iconic for 15 minutes.
But Lusail did have an authentic moment, one of those World Cup events that were instantly captured and printed on screen, a montage target, artfully sketched animation; and a kind of indicator that no matter how you stretch it, or compromise it, or distort its shape, the World Cup will remain the World Cup.
It was the second goal in Brazil’s controlled but ultimately tumultuous 2-0 victory; and a moment of swift silence, explosive calm, fierce precision.
Vinicius Junior made the pass from the left. Richarlison was close to a penalty. He had enough room to turn around and shoot, but the ball went too fast to his feet. The first touch took him straight into the loop, the red shirts closed.
The real magic of the finish that followed was how Richarlison let the ball fall over his shoulder, then twisted in an arc, letting it fall out of sight, the parabola imprinted in his brain, physics crunched, and then went blind to complete a breathtaking jumping volley in the air, catching the ball close and sweet to send it to the near corner Serbia Target.
It was just a brilliant finish, a goal made of thin air, and an example of ballet physical creativity. Shouts erupted around the stadium, a roar, a sort of gurgle as the ball hit the net, and then a yellow sea churned in the corner as the players formed a classic jumping scrum of love.
And it was one of those deep punches, a World Cup moment that people would try to replicate, Richarlison’s somersault, a couch-jump finish, an elbow hit during the break. On this most unreal of global shows, a despotic camera ball, it was like sketching something real.
It was an important game for the Brazilian attack in other ways as well. Richarlison was a consistent full-fledged pest in the second half and razor-sharp in front of goal. Since Vinicius also played a role in both goals, the thought arose: maybe this is a way to get the most out of Neymar.
Don’t rely on Neymar. Don’t let Neymar pull the game his way. Keep a piece of Neymar in stock. It also seemed timely. Neymar left the field in the 80th minute and later appeared with a swollen ankle and a severe limp. After the game, Brazil’s medical team claimed a “direct injury” as a result of one of the Serbs’ nine fouls. “Neymar will play in the World Cup,” Tite said. The good news is, for the first time since Neymar started playing in the World Cups, it might not be fatal if he misses a game from here.
And progress, including for the person himself. Neymar talked about how this could very well be his last World Cup, that he struggles a little with these things, that the pressure is knocking pieces out of him. Perhaps in a strange way, this is quite reassuring: an intelligent response to his unintelligent existence.
Both of his previous world championships have been weird, from the challenging Jesus tournament in 2014 to the superboy persona of 2018 when he actually invented a new tactical uniform, the hysterical ball. Against– whimpering. Speaking of protecting yourself, maybe this is a sign that something is changing. Neymar plays a key role in Brazil. But he was also an ensemble player here.
At the start, a real crackle of static electricity was heard inside the Iconic. It’s an absurdly spectacular illuminated booth, yet another monument to the ghosts of bygone workers, the cold hard edge of the Qatari will to power. From the outside, it looks like a giant basket of alien potpourri. Inside, the stands are so steep you can feel the noise bouncing around, cold synthetic air spiraling out through a huge and gorgeous hole in the roof with a howling mouth.
Tite chose an attacking team with Richarlison and Rafinha ready to track and press while Neymar drifted. At times it was an odd shape, with a tall front four and a slightly overburdened midfield. Luckily, Casemiro recently went through intensive training on balancing a listing ship.
For a while, Vinicius looked like the sharpest link in Brazil’s attack, kicking the turf, a man who seems to be constantly playing on one of Doha’s endless supply of high-tech moving tracks.
In the first half, Brazil acted evasively against a strong, organized Serbian team. But Neymar played a key role in the first match. It was his run, sprint, sprint, stop and sprint past two players who presented the ball to the feet of Vinicius on the left. His low blow was given away and Richarlison finished happily.
And by the end, the Brazilians were pretty much rampant, firing shots, hitting wood, swarming in packs. It was Richie’s day, but also a day to shake Neymar up a bit.addiction of the past. Icons can be heavy, burdensome things. Here Brazil looked a little lighter. We were given a moment. By the end, they looked like well-deserved favorites.