With Neymar out and Brazil’s forwards ineffective throughout the World Cup, it will be up to the team’s defenders and midfielders to keep Brazil in contention.
Brazil are having to turn the focus away from their once-mighty attack ahead of the semi-final against Germany tonight, hoping the rest of the team will be able to come through and carry the hosts into the final.
Brazil scored ten goals in their first five matches, with half of them coming from defenders and midfielders. Neymar scored four, with striker Fred only finding the net once.
Without any reliable options for attack, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is almost certain to replace striker Neymar with a midfielder.
Scolari recently even considered removing Fred from the line-up and adding a third central defender, going back to the 3-5-2 formation that he used when he led Brazil to their fifth world title in 2002.
“We are a team, and a team is not made up only of strikers,” Scolari said. “We have a group. When this group wins, everybody wins, regardless of who scores the goals.”
Chelsea midfielder Willian is the most likely replacement for Neymar, but in the team’s final practice yesterday, Scolari hinted that he may even use three defensive midfielders, with Luiz Gustavo returning to the team after a yellow card suspension. “We have good players for the sector where Neymar played,” Scolari said. “We have options. I’m confident, I’m not worried.”
In addition to the Barcelona star, the coach picked four other strikers for the World Cup: Fred, Bernard, Jo and Hulk.
Fred was supposed to supply the goals, but the Fluminense player struggled from the beginning and has been loudly criticised by fans and local media. His lone goal came in the 4-1 win over Cameroon in the team’s final group-stage match.
“Fred has been playing for the team,” Scolari said. “We can keep winning, even if he doesn’t score. Fred is not the only one in charge of scoring. Everyone has that responsibility.”
Brazil hasn’t had a star striker since Ronaldo stopped playing after the 2006 World Cup. Luis Fabiano was the team’s starter in the 2010 tournament in South Africa. In addition to missing Neymar, Scolari also won’t be able to count on captain and central defender Thiago Silva because of a yellow card suspension. Dante, who plays in Germany for Bayern Munich, is almost certain to replace him.
Silva scored one of Brazil’s goals in the 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarter-final on Friday with fellow defender David Luiz scoring the other.
“The Brazilian national team is not only about Neymar,” Silva said. “It’s in times like this that the whole group has to show its strength.”
Meanwhile, Germany coach Joachim Löw expressed his regret that Neymar will miss the match.
He told the German football federation’s website that Neymar is a “great player” and that “it’s bitter and a great misfortune that he has to be absent now,” for “himself, his team, the entire nation.”
Löw said he wishes Neymar a speedy recovery, adding that people want to see “the best players” at the World Cup, before warning the hosts that his side will mean business, proclaiming: “We’re not done yet.”
The Germans will be bidding to reach their first World Cup final since 2002 – when they were beaten by Scolari’s Brazil.
At the same time, they will be hoping to avoid a hat-trick of consecutive semi-final disappointments by taking the penultimate step towards their first major title since Euro ‘96.
“We’ve been in at least the semi-finals of the last four World Cups and that just shows that we’ve been playing consistently at the very highest level,” Löw said.
“This is a highlight now; it’s something special and amazing. I’m looking forward to it so much, and everybody in the squad is too.
“I think all Germans are also, and one thing’s for sure – we desperately want to play in the Maracana in Rio again on 13 July. We’re not done yet.”
One of the pre-tournament favourites, Germany have lived up to their billing and apart from a few hairy moments against Algeria – have rarely looked in any danger. Their biggest test is about to come, though.
“We all know how strong Brazil are,” Löw said. “They were the big favourites right from the start. They underlined at the Confederations Cup last year that the expectation levels lift them further and the pressure doesn’t numb them.
“What they’ve done is good for the whole tournament; it’s good when the hosts go so far, but we’re self-confident and we’ve gelled more as the tournament has progressed.
“We’ll devise a good plan and give Brazil a real fight. The chances are even and it’s going to come down to something really minor, who reaches the final.”
Löw has no such selection problems with only Shkodran Mustafi unavailable, yet he still does not seem to have found his first-choice starting XI.
Philipp Lahm moved back to right-back in the quarter-final against France with Miroslav Klose making his first start up front, where Thomas Muller had previously been first choice. Mesut Ozil has struggled to deliver while Lukas Podolski no longer seems to figure in Low’s plans.
“Sometimes I just have to follow my intuition,” Löw said.