By TALES AZZONI
AP Sports Writer
LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — With Neymar limping off the field with an ankle injury, Richarlison came through for the “Seleção.”
A spectacular acrobatic kick followed an easy tap-in from close range as Richarlison scored both goals in Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Serbia on Thursday at the World Cup.
He had his back to the goal when he used one touch to get the ball up in the air near the penalty spot, then spun around and leapt off the ground before knocking the ball into the net with his right foot in the 73rd minute.
“My childhood dream has come true,” said Richarlison, who is playing in his first World Cup. “We knew it was going to be difficult to get past them. I’m used to playing against defensive teams like this in England. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that I had and I did.”
Brazil had struggled to get past the Serbian defense until the Tottenham forward scored from close range in the 62nd in a buildup that started with Neymar. Vinícius Júnior assisted on both goals.
Neymar, seeking his first major title with Brazil, stayed at 75 goals for the national team, two shy of Pelé’s scoring record.
He was tackled hard a few times and hurt his right ankle in the second half. He was limping at one point and ended up crying on the bench after being substituted in the 79th.
Brazil coach Tite started with an attack-minded squad that included four forwards — Neymar, Vinícius Júnior, Raphinha and Richarlison. Attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá played alongside Casemiro, the lone defensive midfielder.
But Serbia had several players back and was able to keep Brazil from creating many significant opportunities. Neymar tried to control the pace but struggled to get free. He, Vinícius Júnior and Raphinha all squandered chances early on.
Brazil’s best chance before Richarlison’s opening goal had been a low long-range shot by Alex Sandro that hit the post in the 60th. Neymar had his best opportunities with a free kick in the 50th and a shot from near the penalty spot in the 55th.
The 30-year-old Neymar arrived to his third World Cup as Brazil’s main attraction. He helped the “Seleção” win the 2013 Confederations Cup and its first Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, but has yet to win a major title with the national team.
Brazil, trying to win its first World Cup in two decades, is unbeaten in its last 20 opening games, with 17 victories. It has finished first in its group in the last 10 World Cups.
In the other Group G match, Switzerland defeated Cameroon 1-0.
Brazil and Serbia also played in the group stage in 2018, with Brazil also winning 2-0 to reach the next stage at Serbia’s expense.
Since competing as Serbia in 2010, the the country has not advanced to the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
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