STILL coping with the loss of their biggest star, Brazil are trying to find ways to remain upbeat about their prospects at the World Cup.
The medical helicopter that took Neymar home with a back injury also carried away much of the country’s hopes for a sixth World Cup triumph, but the tournament isn’t over yet and Brazil are just a day away from a difficult semi-final against Germany.
“We have to try to be mature in a moment like this,” Brazil defender David Luiz said. “We are sad because we are missing an important player and someone who was trying to fulfil his dream of winning this title.”
Neymar had been a main attraction in the finals until the devastating injury in the team’s 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarter-finals on Friday. He was a crucial member of the group trying to win the title at home. He was seen as the joyful youngster who was admired and respected by everyone.
Brazil doctor Jose Luiz Runco said the players were “shocked and saddened” when they heard Neymar would miss the rest of the World Cup.
“It’s sad because we know how hard he worked to be here with us,” striker Fred said. “We know how important he was for us. But we have to look at our group and realise that it still has a lot of quality.”
Everyone knows it won’t be easy replacing Neymar. Brazil thrived when he played well and struggled when he didn’t live up to expectations.
“It’s difficult to lose a player who is so crucial to our team,” veteran right back Maicon said.
It will be up to coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to find a replacement for the 22-year-old striker and to keep the team in contention for the trophy. The team’s other forwards have been struggling since the competition began, and nobody else in the squad has the characteristics of the Barcelona star. Instead of using back-up strikers Bernard or Jo, it is likely that Scolari will pick one of his midfielders to play in the match against Germany tomorrow in Belo Horizonte. Willian, Hernanes and Ramires are the most probable options.
Worse for Scolari is the fact that captain and central defender Thiago Silva will also be missing due to suspension.
“We don’t know who is going to come in, but we know that we have a lot of quality players,” Silva said. “We are sad for Neymar and because I’m not going to play, but we have to be prepared despite these absences.”
One way for Brazil to try to stay positive may be to look to its past. It is not the first time Brazil’s national team lost their best player to injury during the World Cup. It happened to Pelé and Brazil still went on to lift the trophy.
“I was also injured during the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and I was out for the rest of the tournament,” Pelé said. “But God helped Brazil continue on to win the championship.”
When Pelé hurt a muscle in the second match of the tournament in Chile, most in Brazil said the chances of a world title had diminished significantly. But the team won their next four matches to clinch a second consecutive trophy.
“I hope the same will happen with our Selecao in this World Cup,” Pelé said.
Runco added that Neymar’s absence can work in Brazil’s favour. “I think this will help make this group become stronger. It will motivate them to reach the final and win the title,” the doctor said. “They will want to honour this team-mate who always helped the team.”