Belo Horizonte: Brazil must overcome the massive blow dealt by the injury to marquee forward Neymar if they are to beat frighteningly consistent Germany on Tuesday and book a World Cup final spot on home soil for a second time.
Brazil, chasing a sixth world title, are still reeling from Neymar’s injury in their quarter-final win over Colombia, and the entire nation is holding its breath and hoping the team’s chances have not been irreparably damaged.
Neymar, who scored four goals in the tournament, fractured a vertebra late in the game and will be out for the rest of the tournament, but for Brazil there is no alternative but to get to the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Any other result would be a national catastrophe for the country of 200 million football-mad fans, similar to the 1950 final defeat by Uruguay, also in Brazil.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be forced to reshuffle his team in two positions with captain Thiago Silva suspended for the game against opponents who have made a record fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final.
Fifa on Monday said it could not consider Brazil’s appeal against Silva’s yellow card. The governing body said there was “no legal basis” to grant such a request.
The defender was booked against Colombia for blocking goalkeeper David Ospina as he was taking a kick, and as it was his second of the tournament, he was automatically suspended.
But more than Silva, it’s Neymar who will be missed. “We’ll miss Neymar,” team-mate Oscar said. “Whoever comes in in his place, has to play as part of the team and beat Germany.
“The best thing we do is play as a team and I just hope that whoever comes in plays well,” the attacking midfielder said.
To play as well as Neymar is probably expecting too much of Willian, likely to be his understudy at the Mineirao stadium, in Belo Horizonte.
Neymar has netted 35 times in 54 games for Brazil, more than anyone else in the squad and Scolari has selected him for every one of the 27 matches he has coached since returning to manage Brazil for a second time in 2012.
But if anyone knows how to beat the Germans, it is Scolari, who led Brazil to their most recent world title in 2002 with a 2-0 victory over Germany in the final in what is, surprisingly, the teams’ only previous World Cup meeting.
Back then, a rugged German side that battled it’s way to the final with a series of 1-0 wins on the back of the best goalkeeper in the tournament, Oliver Kahn, faced a Brazil side containing a magical front three of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. That night, an uncharacteristic Kahn mistake put Scolari’s Brazil on their way to a fifth title.
The only constants from 12 years ago may be that Scolari is back as Brazil boss and Germany still have the best ’keeper in the tournament in Manuel Neuer.
Even Neuer represents the Germans’ style shift in the past decade with his sweeper-like ability to flee from his box and become an extra outfield player in building the play from the back. Germany have played 500 more successful passes than anyone else in the competition and more than 1,000 more than Brazil, who still lag behind Chile despite having played a game more.
The European heavyweights’ consistency since 2002 is nothing short of spectacular, coming back as title contenders every four years and making the semi-finals in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Since committing to attack when hosting the tournament in 2006, Germany have scored 40 goals in the last three World Cups.
However, what they have failed to do is lift a fourth trophy, stumbling at the penultimate hurdle each time.
Without a World Cup win since 1990 and an international title since Euro 96, the Germans are convinced they finally have a team that can deliver the killer punch. “I can only urge you to go and reward yourselves,” German football association president Wolfgang Niersbach told the players.
Without Neymar, things will not be easy for Brazil. As 1970 World Cup winning forward Tostao concluded earlier in the tournament: “Brazil have two strategies: number one, give it to Neymar; number two give it to Neymar.” Will they find a way out?