And so the journey to Rio continues for Brazil.
At the scene of their last loss on home soil, the Samba stars endured yet another extremely emotional outing in the Estádio Castelão in Fortaleza.
An early goal on the seventh minute by Thiago Silva gave the host nation the lead after he ghosted into the far post to guide in Neymar’s corner with his knee. Then in the second half, a sublime David Luiz free-kick from 30-yards out flew by a flailing David Ospina and seemingly sealed the game.
That was until Julio Cesar bundled over Carlos Bacca in the penalty box following James Rodriguez’s sweet through ball to unlock the Brazillian back-line. Up stepped the Colombian golden boy to calmly slot in his World Cup leading sixth goal from 12 yards out and set up a nervy finish.
Nonetheless, the Seleção were able to hold on and book a spot in the semi-final. Although it has come at a cost.
The “poster boy” for this World Cup took a knee to his lower back from Juan Zúñiga in the latter stages of the game and he had to be carried off on a stretcher. He was taken to hospital for evaluation, and later diagnosed with a broken vertebra – meaning he is out of the World Cup.
It’s not that Brazil doesn’t have the talent to field a respectable replacement for the Neymar – of course they do, Chelsea’s Willian or the diminutive, but skilful Bernard are great secondary options to have. It’s just that the Barcelona man has become a talismanic figure. As such, you can’t help but wonder whether the team can deal with the loss of the one player they have seemingly pinned all their World Cup hopes on?
To make things worse, the key players supposed to make things easier for him haven’t been particularly stellar.
Paulinho has had a terrible tournament and hasn’t been able to contribute much, ditto for Fred. Hulk has progressively got better but he hasn’t been able to find the back of the net, and Oscar hasn’t been able to be much of a factor either. Still, you can’t fault his either player’s work rate.
Having scored one already, Silva looked to poach a second goal by nicking the ball off Ospina, as he set up to hoof it down the field. However, the Colombia ‘keeper technically still had possession of the ball therefore the defender had no right to go after it.
Had he simply stolen the ball off the ‘keeper’s hands, perhaps referee Carlos Velasco Carballo would have been more lenient. However, Silva then proceeded to put the ball into the empty net, thus becoming the first player booked in a game where the card tally could’ve easily reached double-digits.
That means the Brazil captain is now suspended for Tuesday’s clash against the tournament favourites Germany.
Who will replace them?
At least Luis Felipe Scolari will have a reliable replacement in Bayern Munich’s Dante. He has found it hard to break-up the Silva-Luiz partnership but this could be a huge opportunity for him, plus, he’s no slouch either. Furthermore, Luis Gustavo will be available for selection after serving his suspension.
But where the team will truly feel his absence will be in the leadership department.
The PSG man is the one who organises the players during dead-ball situations. He is the one who makes sure players know their assignments. And he is the one who leads by example as he often puts his body on the line to prevent goals. Brazil are already somewhat shaky at the back, so losing a player of his calibre would be enormous.
If it’s any consolation for Scolari, at least he still has David Luiz, who has been the best player at the tournament so far, according to FIFA. In addition to playing outstanding football, he has also become an emotional leader for this squad because of the passion he has been playing with.
Moreover, while Silva wasn’t able to bring himself to take a penalty kick (or even watch) against Chile in the last 16, Luiz stepped up to expertly stroke one in.
Nevertheless, the Auriverde are in a very tough spot. Losing Neymar will almost certainly drain the team and the nation of any optimism and losing their captain only adds salt into the wound.
In a nutshell, Brazil will need some sort of miracle to even stand a chance.
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