Brazil's Richarlison thrives in World Cup spotlight
Brazil's forward #09 Richarlison celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Brazil and Serbia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on November 24, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Richarlison has always had a flair for the dramatic and the Brazil striker is relishing his chance to seize the World Cup spotlight after being reduced to a supporting role at Tottenham.

After starting his Tottenham career this season stuck in Harry Kane's shadow, the flamboyant Richarlison has grabbed his opportunity to be the centre of attention on the global stage in Qatar.

With Brazil battling to break down stubborn Serbia, Richarlison scored twice after half-time as the World Cup title favourites opened their campaign with a 2-0 win on Thursday.

It was the 25-year-old's balletic second goal — an agile scissor-kick launched with Richarlison parallel to the ground — that suggested he is ready to emerge as one of the World Cup's leading lights.

Richarlison's moment of magic against Serbia came after his World Cup dreams had been plunged into doubt when he suffered a calf injury playing for Tottenham in a Premier League game against Everton in October.

"Four weeks ago I was crying, doubting whether I would come. It was worth all the effort I put in to my recovery. Three sessions a day. I was determined to come to the World Cup," he said.

Known for celebrating his often audacious goals by strutting like a pigeon, Richarlison has never shied away from the limelight.

And with Brazil's talisman Neymar sidelined for at least one game after suffering ankle ligament damage against Serbia, Richarlison will be the main man in their second Group G fixture against Switzerland at Stadium 974 on Monday.

Even without Paris Saint Germain star Neymar, Brazil Coach Tite has a wealth of attacking options to choose from.

Richarlison, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha, Antony, Gabriel Martinelli and Rodrygo have all been vying for places in the Selecao starting line-up.

But unlike at Tottenham, where he is unable to play in his preferred central striker's role due to the presence of England Captain Kane, Richarlison has been entrusted with the weighty burden of providing Brazil's main source of goals.

It is a responsibility Richarlison is more than happy to shoulder as Brazil chase their first world title since 2002.

Richarlison's dreams of World Cup glory were fuelled on the dirt fields of Todos os Santos, where he first played football as a child.

After his parents divorced, Richarlison's fiercely driven personality emerged as he sold ice cream, picked coffee beans and washed cars to help his mother, who worked several jobs to provide for the family.

Spurned by Brazilian clubs Avai and Figueirense as a teenager, Richarlison finally earned his chance with America Mineiro before his vast potential was spotted by Fluminense and then Watford.

Brazil Coach Tite ranks Richarlison as his best "finisher" but those predatory instincts have yet to show themselves at Tottenham, where he has struggled to justify the £60-million ($72-million) fee Antonio Conte paid to sign him from Everton in the close-season.

A return of just two goals from his 15 appearances this season is well below what Conte would have expected from a player who was prolific at Everton and has netted 19 times in 39 caps for Brazil.

In Richarlison's defence, he has had to play in a wider attacking role at Tottenham.

Yet even the striker himself admits he poses a more consistent threat with Brazil.

"I don't know if you can smell a goal but with the national team I score goals," Richarlison said.

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