Brazil striker Neymar’s World Cup is over and the loss of their talisman and top goalscorer to injury leaves manager Luiz Felipe Scolari with a big headache ahead of their semi-final against Germany on Tuesday.
Neymar was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament in which he had scored four goals after fracturing a vertebra in the closing stages of the 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia on Friday.
Few players in the 23-man squad have Neymar’s ability to change a game with a jink, a pass or a perfectly flighted free kick, and center forwards Fred and Jo do not pose the same threat in front of goal.
Scolari’s options are limited.
Fernandinho could play further forward ahead of Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo, who is available after a suspension, or Scolari could opt to play Jo and Fred together up front for the first time and use Hulk and Oscar as more conventional midfielders rather than the midfielders-cum-wingers they are now.
Perhaps more likely is the entry of one of the two attacking midfielders, Bernard or Willian.
Although Bernard is only 21, he gives the side width and pace, and Scolari is a big fan, having famously said “he has joy in his legs.”
Willian is also in form, having fought his way into the squad at the last minute after an excellent season with Chelsea.
“My bet is Willian,” Carlos Alberto Torres, captain of the side who won the World Cup in 1970, told Sportv. “He has talent and he comes back to mark too. I can’t see anyone that can substitute Neymar better than Willian.”
Whoever comes in, the focus will inevitably move to the collective, and Brazil will be forced to pull together.
“They [Germany] know that our team is not just Neymar, that we play well collectively as a team,” Oscar said. “I think we have other individuals. They know it is a loss for us, of course, but they also know to respect Brazil.”
“We’ll miss him... but we can’t be sad, we’re in the semi-final of the World Cup. We played a good game today and whoever comes in in his place has to play as part of the team and beat Germany,” Oscar said.
Other players said Neymar’s exit could serve as an incentive for a team seeking to win their sixth World Cup.
“It’s at times like these when the team shows its strength,” said captain Thiago Silva, who will miss the semi-final after picking up a second yellow card against Colombia.
“Neymar is a very important guy for our group, we depend a lot on him... this situation can mark a revolution for us, like ‘let’s win the Cup for Neymar, because of this injury...’ This could help bring together the team even more,” Silva said.