Football

Chelsea star Oscar can fill Neymar void at the World Cup

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Someone may need to tell the people of Brazil that Neymar isn't dead. Battered, bruised, teary-eyed and very much out of the World Cup after he picked up a back injury in Brazil's 2-1 win over Colombia at the quarter-final stage, but still very much of this earth.

“Neymar won't be on the pitch, but his soul will be on it, with the players. Neymar's spirit will be with us,” Mario Zagallo, the former Brazil coach, eulogised, presumably while staring at a black and white picture of his fallen comrade in his Sunday-best, while dabbing a handkerchief at the corner of each eye.  

Setback

“Uma pancada no Brasil" - “A blow to Brazil” - blared O Globo, one of the biggest newspapers in Brazil. A more sensible approach to the reality of the situation. Losing Neymar is a real setback - while losing Thiago Silva to suspension is far from ideal. However all is not lost.

Despite the injury to their talisman, the Selecao are just two games away from the ultimate glory - a World Cup win on home soil. One of the greatest features of this superb tournament has been the noise generated by the home fans, and they'll need to be at their vociferous best if Brazil are to get past Germany in Belo Horizonte tomorrow.

However boss Luiz Felipe Scolari won't have to rely solely on the outpouring emotion of the gathered masses. Instead the burden will likely fall on the shoulders of one man. Chelsea's Oscar.

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At a press conference yesterday it was Willian who was given the nickname, "the new Amarildo”, in tribute to the man who replaced the injured Pele at the 1962 World Cup. In terms of stepping up and replacing the main man however, it is Oscar's duty to deliver Brazil to World Cup glory now.

Playmaker

The young playmaker has been gamely plugging away out wide for much of the tournament, demonstrating the work-rate that has made him a favourite of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Against Chile in the last 16 for example, he ran more that 12,000 metres to help his team withstand Jorge Sampaoli's team and their onslaught - with only Dani Alves and Luis Gustavo covering more ground. He also led the way in terms of tackle against Colombia, making five all in. Not bad for a player who looks like he'd struggle to put one foot in front of the other when faced with a stiff breeze. 

Although he is willing to do the dirty work out wide, with Neymar out he can move into his natural position in the middle of the park and pull the string from there. He ousted Juan Mata as Chelsea's creative heartbeat, and already has two assists at this World Cup. He should be able to do more damage from the middle and even help a stuttering Brazil click in attack.

Showdown

In what could be a key battle, the fact that Germany lined up for their own quarter-final against France with a midfield combination of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger - so without a dedicated holding player - could play into Oscar's hands. The German pair will alternate between sitting back while the other one ventures forward, so the Chelsea man should find space.

Of course, in many ways, Neymar is more than a player. He is the embodiment of Brazil's World Cup charge and his presence alone is enough to whip a crowd into a frenzy, which can feed back into the team; just look at their blitzkrieg start against Colombia to get an idea of their symbiotic relationship. However the Barcelona man has actually struggled to inspire his team in the knockout stages which hasn't gone unnoticed, and a move to put Oscar in the middle may actually make Brazil more balanced.

Ready for Germany

Neymar has been playing behind Fred but has the instincts of a forward and the dribbling skills of a winger, which hasn't been conducive to a coherent attacking display as yet.

With Oscar in the middle Brazil should be able to hold onto the ball better as he looks to find space and give options to his midfielders between the lines in order to pick his own pass - which in turn will do wonders for the much-maligned Fred, who should improve when given better service. 

Balance

Oscar averages more passes-per-game than Neymar at this tournament, and has played more accurate through-balls than his countryman. Neymar actually has a slightly-higher pass success rate, but that should change when Oscar comes off the wing. 

That he knows Willian, the man who should come into the Brazil team, from their time at Chelsea should also help Brazil produce something approaching their best football, and the two may even interchange throughout the game to find extra space.

It is Oscar's gift and his curse that he's not only willing but able to flourish in different positions. He was the one forced to make way for Neymar when he burst onto the scene but now with Brazil's superstar our of the way, this could be his time to step up, and become the man his nation needs him to be with the prospect of a final at the iconic Maracana on the horizon.

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Topics:
Brazil Football
Neymar
Chelsea
World Cup
Football

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