Brazil loses Neymar's aura, but can still win it all
Willian or Bernard the likeliest players to fill void
No player is bigger than the team. No individual can do it alone. Cliched, I accept, but nonetheless an undeniable truth.
The loss of Neymar for the remainder of the World Cup, however, is a crushing blow to Brazil.
It is more than just his goals. It is about his very presence on the field of play and the resultant ability to intimidate opponents. At the age of just 22, Neymar has become the talisman of the team and principally on his young shoulders lie the hopes and dreams of an entire nation.
Unbearable pressure for most of us. Not for Neymar, who embraces the expectation, rides upon it and genuinely enjoys delivering a consistent level of Grade A performances. His final act at this World Cup was not to score but to set up his captain for a crucial early goal which engaged the massed ranks of Brazilian fans.
The positive start against Colombia was pivotal. The hosts, roared on by a capacity crowd and millions more across the vast country, were too strong, too quick and too hungry to allow their opponent to gain any sort of foothold. Colombia upped its game after the late penalty but time was always the enemy.
Injuries are part of the game. Neymar’s nimbleness and agility usually keeps him out of danger but there is nothing a player can do when he doesn’t see it coming. The knee of Juan Zuniga in Neymar’s back was clumsy rather than reckless but the contact, in the lower spine, fractured a vertebra.
Neymar will recover — just not quickly enough for Brazil. Gone for the remainder of the World Cup are his goals, assists, set-pieces, link up play and his penchant for giving opposing defenders heart palpitations. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has no choice but to take it on the chin, but he going to need a Plan B.
Silva situation also concern
There is only one burning question: Can Brazil win the World Cup without Neymar?
The answer is simple. Of course Brazil can — but it would be naive to suggest Brazil’s inspirational No. 10 can be simply replaced off the bench. There are no passengers on Brazil’s World Cup squad, but none of them possess Neymar’s aura which sends a defiant message across the tunnel before a ball is even kicked.
Scolari has offensive options — Willian or Bernard will likely get the call for Tuesday’s semifinal against Germany. Both could fill the tactical void left by Neymar but they are mighty big boots to fill and the Germans know it.
Of equal concern is the loss of Thiago Silva. The Brazilian captain will only be a spectator in Belo Horizonte after picking up a needless yellow card during the quarter final win. The absence of both Silva and Neymar against the powerful Germans does not bode well.
Yet this remains Brazil’s World Cup to lose. There is no time for self pity or sentiment despite the premature end of Neymar’s tournament. His team-mates now need to buckle down, refocus and go and win it for him, and an expectant nation.