So it seemed could be the case as the favourites for Qatar – and the planet’s favourite football nation as the only one on its soil to enjoy five finals triumphs – struggled to oxygenate their opener against a supremely smothering Serbia.
After the hype and the hoopla over the attacking armoury of, by repute, the international arena’s ultimate global flair-players in the build-up to this encounter that completed the first round of matches, it seemed their opponents had mastered the means of buckling their swash. Then Brazilian forward Richarlison sashayed centre-stage. His two goals inside five minutes, the first at the 73rd mark, not only snared a 2-0 victory. The dazzling nature of his clinching second was the product of the sort of outrageous skill, and chutzpah, that demonstrated exactly why so many lovers of the game move to a Brazilian beat.
The strike had to be watched on replay a number of times just to appreciate its true audaciousness. At first watch, it seemed that he had merely – merely! – improvised in producing a stunning hitchkick to smear the ball into the net after a driven-in left-wing cross from Vinicius Junior had looped up off his foot. Seeing reruns, it became apparent that the 25-year-old had deliberately flicked it up and then practically cartwheeled after it to spear it low into the corner and beyond the grasp of 6ft 8ins keeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. A man who had deployed his frame to impressive effect in stymying any yellow peril until that point.
Richarlison’s ninth goal in his past seven internationals, his eighth five minutes prior was embroidered by more subtle beauty. Modern day icon Neymar’s balletic elegance can sometimes be overshadowed by his predelictions for diva-ishness and his diving. But he was the architect for the opener by creating space on the edge of the area through appearing to control the ball with invisible strings as he allowed it to drift across his body before wispishly manouvering into the box. Okay, the ball then rolled away from him and into the path of Vinicius Junior. That, though, allowed the Real Madrid winger to drive it at goal. And despite the keeper making a solid block Richarlison instinctively sensed his opportunity, darting in to crisply first-time the rebound over the line.
Had Raphinha, the third member of the Brazilian forward line, been as touched by the scoring Gods as his team-mate then Tite’s team could have helped themselves to a couple of more goals. His squandering of two huge openings ultimately did not matter. Likewise that Alex Sandro slapped the post with a shimmering effort on the hour mark. Serbia, who topped their qualifying section ahead of Portugal, had been presented as an immovable object that Brazil could struggle to budge. Indeed, of all the countries considered genuine contenders for the Jules Rimet trophy this time around, the Brazilians appeared to have the most awkward first challenge in Qatar. A team with only two defeats in their previous 46 matches weren’t at their exhilarating best as they passed their first test. They possessed sufficient irresistible forces, though. Enough to suggest that delivering Neymar the honour craved, nay demanded, to allow the 30-year-old to justify his standing – and talents – could well be within their gifts.