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    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    World Cup roundup

    Brazil's Richarlison celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Serbia, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
    Brazil's Neymar grabs his ankle after an injury during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Serbia, at the the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)
    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, up, falls over Ghana's goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi during the World Cup group H soccer match between Portugal and Ghana, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

    Brazil 2, Serbia 0

    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 victory over Serbia on Thursday at the World Cup.

    After the match, the Tottenham striker learned of the extent of Neymar's injury.

    "The most important thing for us it to have him at 100% for the next match," said Richarlison, whose first goal came after a buildup started by Neymar. "When I get to the hotel I'm going to go and see how he is doing."

    Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said Neymar sprained his right ankle. He declined to speculate on whether he would be available to play in the team's next match against Switzerland on Monday.

    "We put ice on it while he was on the bench and then in physiotherapy," Lasmar said. "There is no test scheduled for now but we will schedule it if needed. He will be under observation. We will know more tomorrow."

    Neymar was also injured at the 2014 World Cup. Playing at home in Brazil, his tournament ended with a back injury in the quarterfinals against Colombia when he had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. Brazil ended up losing to Germany 7-1 in the semifinals.

    Neymar was fouled nine times in the match against Serbia, four more than any other player so far at this year's World Cup. But while taking care of Neymar, the opposing defense couldn't stop Richarlison.

    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 Richarlison scored from close range in the 62nd. 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 sprained his right ankle in the second half. He was crying on the bench after being substituted in the 79th and was limping as he left the stadium.

    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.

    Serbia had its own injury issues for the match.

    "We have three key players who are injured — it's too much for us," Serbia coach Dragan Stojković said. "We are not Brazil with 200 million people. We are a very small country."

    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.

    Portugal 3, Ghana 2

    Cristiano Ronaldo closed his eyes, took in a deep breath and then made World Cup history.

    The Portugal striker became the first male player to score at five World Cups with his 65th-minute penalty in a win over Ghana.

    Days after his contract was terminated at Manchester United following a tell-all interview, he let his soccer do the talking at the start of likely his final World Cup.

    "This was a beautiful moment," Ronaldo said. "The world record, the only player to score in five World Cups, makes me very proud."

    Wheeling away after the ball struck the back of the net to give Portugal a 1-0 lead, a smiling Ronaldo performed his usual leap and swivel in the air — the crowd roared his trademark "SI-UUU" as he did the pirouette — before getting mobbed by teammates.

    He has now scored in every World Cup since his first in 2006, when a penalty against Iran started his run of goals in the tournament that's now up to eight in 18 matches. He has a men's record 118 international goals.

    "I think Cristiano is a phenomenon, a legend," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. "In 50 years, we will continue to talk about him."

    His latest scoring record adds to the luster of a resume that should ensure Ronaldo receives plenty of offers from new clubs after splitting with United on Tuesday. That came after he gave an unauthorized interview to Piers Morgan criticizing the manager, owners and his teammates at the English club.

    His fraught buildup to the tournament didn't appear to affect Ronaldo against Ghana, even though he wasted two clear-cut chances in the first half.

    "It was a week that finished this chapter (with United)," Ronaldo said. "It is closed and now I want to start with the good foot forward. We started, we won, I want to help my team and all the rest does not matter."

    Ronaldo ended the match with his head in his hands in pure relief after Ghana almost snatched a draw in the ninth minute of stoppage time thanks to a piece of ingenuity.

    In the last action of the game, Ghana striker Inaki Williams hid behind Diogo Costa as the Portugal goalkeeper rolled the ball on the ground and prepared to clear it. Williams dispossessed Costa and, despite slipping, managed to poke the ball toward goal.

    Portugal defender Danilo raced back and cleared the ball away from near the line as Ronaldo, who was sitting in the dugout after being substituted, watched in disbelief.

    All the goals came in a wild final half-hour, with Andre Ayew equalizing for Ghana eight minutes after Ronaldo converted his penalty after tumbling under a challenge by Mohammed Salisu.

    Ghana coach Otto Addo called the penalty "a special gift from the referee."

    Joao Felix regained the lead for Portugal in the 78th minute following a through-ball by Bruno Fernandes, who then set up Rafael Leao to add a third. Osman Bukari reduced Ghana's deficit in the 89th, celebrating in comical fashion by performing Ronaldo's "SI-UUU" twirl.

    South Korea 0, Uruguay 0

    Another favored team has failed to impress in the early stages of the World Cup.

    This time it was South Korea holding South American power Uruguay to a draw, a result that probably favors the Asian team.

    The draw at Education City Stadium was yet another early World Cup match with a surprising result. Argentina and Germany both lost their opening games in major upsets. This one hinted at being another.

    Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said he was satisfied, and so did South Korea counterpart Paulo Bento. Alonso sounded less convincing.

    "I'm more than happy with the result," Alonso said. "I'm sure that this group stage will be determined by the last match. We all know the second game is key, and so is the third one. But this will not affect whether we qualify of not."

    Uruguay will next face Portugal in Group H while South Korea plays Ghana, with both games on Monday. The top two teams in the group will advance to the round of 16.

    South Korea, with forward Son Heung-min wearing a mask to protect a broken left eye socket, always looked the more likely to score against the more experienced Uruguayans. The South Koreans were quicker, pressing from the opening whistle.

    Many South Korean fans wore Batman-like masks in solidarity with Son, who was injured on Nov. 2 in a Champions League match playing for English club Tottenham. He had a few early chances but seemed to tire in the second half.

    "He (Son) had a serious injury," Bento said. "He was inactive for a considerable amount of time. He could only get back with the team in the recent days. And of course it's natural after an injury that it will take time some time to adapt. But I think overall we had a good performance."

    In a match with few clear scoring chances and South Korea often in control, Uruguay had the best opportunities to score: Diego Godin hit the post with a header in the 43rd minute and Federico Valverde hit it in the 89th.

    Alonso started an attacking lineup with Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri up front, and with Valverde and Matias Vecino in midfield. But they seldom had the ball at the start.

    South Korea pressed forward early and Son excited the crowd every time he touched the ball, but he managed only one threatening attack in the first half. South Korea always looked quicker than Uruguay, but not necessarily the more dangerous. The team's best chance came in the 34th minute when Hwang Ui-jo sailed a close-range attempt over the crossbar.

    As the second half wore on, Uruguay began to take more possession but always seemed cautious, taking less initiative despite having the more experienced players.

    Son went down in a heap early in the second half with Martin Caceres getting the first yellow card of the match.

    Alonso sent in Edinson Cavani for Suarez in 64th minute as the pace of the match slowed until Valverde hit the post in the final minutes.

    "In the first 20 minutes, we struggled against Korea," Alonso said. "We couldn't take the ball from them. We couldn't get any pressure and lost precision.

    "Obviously, the second half we dominated much more. We were better than them, I think, but we lacked a bit of attacking. I mean attacking more. We tried to be more competitive, too."

    Switzerland 1, Cameroon 0

    Born in Cameroon but playing for Switzerland, of course Breel Embolo would score when those two countries met at the World Cup.

    Embolo promised he wouldn't celebrate if he scored for the Swiss team against his country of birth, and he kept his word. It turned out to be the only goal of the match as Switzerland beat Cameroon.

    "I would have liked him to be on my side," said Cameroon coach Rigobert Song, who played in four World Cups for his home country, "but that's not the way it went."

    The crowd waited and watched for Embolo's reaction after he scored his 12th goal for Switzerland in the 48th-minute off a low pass from Xherdan Shaqiri.

    He stood still in the goalmouth and first held his arms out wide, then raised his hands in a gesture of apology. He put his hands over his month as if realizing how profound the moment was as his Swiss teammates rushed toward him near the penalty spot.

    Embolo then pointed toward the Swiss fans behind the goal where he had scored, and then to the Cameroon fans at the opposite corner of Al Janoub Stadium.

    Even Song felt pride in the 25-year-old forward, who was born in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde but played for Swiss national youth teams before getting a passport from his adopted country when he was 17.

    "I am happy for him and also proud of him. He's my little brother. We've often spoken to each other on the phone," said Song, who was asked what he said to Embolo on the field after the game. "I thought he played a great game and I wanted to tell him. We're still brothers at the end of the day."

    Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said he had offered some advice to Embolo about dealing with his emotions.

    "You can be friendly up to kickoff," Yakin said, "and after that they are our opponents."

    Embolo left Cameroon with his family when he was 5. They spent time in France before settling in Switzerland, the country he is now representing at a second World Cup.

    Embolo spoke to Swiss television after the match and wished Cameroon luck for the rest of the tournament.

    It could be a short World Cup for Cameroon, which still has to face Brazil and Serbia in Group G and has lost eight straight games at the tournament dating back to 2002.

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