The Brazilian nation should be bristling with positivity and excitement. The Selecao have overcome the enormous pressure heaped upon them by a fervent soccer nation. They’ve conquered some fearsome opponents and subsequently, they find themselves in the semi-final of a World Cup on home soil.
Just one win away from the final, two away from an unprecedented sixth world crown.
But after Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team managed to edge past Colombia in a quarter-final thriller, the overwhelming mood that swept the host country was bittersweet. There’s an uneasy apprehension and for the first time, a bit of doubt too.
That’s because if Brazil are going to make it to the World Cup final then they will have to do so without their inspirational captain Thiago Silva; if they’re going to go one better and win it it, they’ll have to do so without their top scorer and brightest star, Neymar.
So as Brazil gear up for their semi-final with Germany, let’s take a look at the challenges they’ll have to overcome without these two vital players and how Scolari’s men are set to fare against the challenges posed by Die Mannschaft.
Here’s how Brazil look set to line-up for the semi-final:
Brazil need a new talisman
For those watching this World Cup with a keen ear, you would have heard Brazilian fans at the game between Argentina and Belgium singing a lament for their stricken No.10, such is Neymar’s significance to the Selecao cause. But the defensive attributes of Silva—while a lot more understated than the attacking flourishes of the Barcelona man—have also been vital in Brazil’s run to the last-four.
Without these two key players, suddenly there’s no safety net for Brazilian supporters. There’s been a sense throughout this tournament that while the hosts haven’t played at their best in any of their matches so far, a defiant challenge from Silva or a sprinkling of genius from Neymar could help get them over the line. In the semi-final, that underpinning reassurance will be pulled from beneath them.
So it’s going to be an extremely nervous semi-final for those who back the men in yellow; without their key twosome they’re entering unknown territory, after all. But the Brazilian players that remain must see this as a wonderful opportunity to emerge as a much-needed talisman.
It could be David Luiz, who plays with a swashbuckling swagger and raw emotion that is so thrilling to watch. It could be Oscar, the man who shone in the tournament opener against Croatia, but has been on the periphery of games since. It could even be Hulk, the forward who has showcased glimpses of indisputable ability, but also an undesirable patent for snatching at chances when they arise.
There are few nations in the world game that honor their individual heroes like Brazil; the opportunity is there for some of these men to unexpectedly etch their name into the annals of this illustrious football nation.
Where can they improve?
Where can Brazil improve? Just about everywhere, really. There has been a sense throughout this tournament that a majority of the Brazil players are shirking a degree of responsibility, waiting instead for Neymar to conjure up facets of genius. Now they have no choice but to stand up and be counted.
And perhaps Neymar’s absence will encourage them to do that, it quite simply has to if Brazil are to progress. It’s not as if the rest of the team are poor players after all; the man who looks set to replace the Barcelona man is Willian, and fans of the Premier League will be well acquainted with his blistering runs and unwavering industry.
Brazil will need to strike a suitable balance against this German team, and although they’ll miss the mercurial ingenuity of Neymar, the team that looks set to start this semi-final does have a very energetic, cohesice feel about it. Oscar will surely move in-field to play in his preferred No. 10 role, and he’s a lot more likely to drop into the midfield and hassle the German playmakers. Behind him, Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo look like an impenetrable holding midfield duo.
Defensively, Bayern Munich’s Dante will come in to replace Silva, and it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with playing between effervescent but occasionally erratic players in David Luiz and Marcelo. The Bayern man is also privy to taking the odd risk on the ball, but against a German team that will press high and look to squeeze the play, he and the entire Brazil back four must be astute and sensible in their play out from the back.
More also needs to come from the front men in Neymar’s absence, Hulk in particular. The Zenit man has produced some really sharp bits of play in and around the penalty area, but he seems to panic when faced with a genuine goalscoring opportunity; he missed a couple of big chances on his left foot against Colombia and needs a goal to rediscover his composure in front of goal.
Where can they cause problems for Germany?
Here’s how the two teams looks set to line up for the semi-final clash:
If there’s a midfield triumvirate in this tournament that can disrupt the metronomic aura of the German midfield, it’s Fernandinho, Gustavo and Oscar. That trio is energetic, defensively astute and physical in their play, meaning they should be capable of getting between the Mannschaft midfield men.
Oscar is set to be Brazil’s creator in chief for this one, but he also will play a vital role in this semi-final, dropping back onto the German midfield men—particularly playmaker extraordinaire Toni Kroos—and disrupting the rhythm of their play.
In wide areas too—particularly down the Germany left—Brazil have have the edge. Germany are set to line up in a system that’s very narrow, with the only player in the team really comfortable playing out wide being right-back Philipp Lahm. With Mesut Ozil unlikely to do much tracking back down the left-hand side, Willian and Maicon are capable of overloading Benedikt Howedes at left-back, and they will feel confident of getting the better of him over the course of the 90 minutes.
Brazil also have two central defenders in Dante and Luiz that are comfortable on the ball. If they can play through the German press, then players like Howedes and Per Mertesacker could be exposed by the likes of Willian and Oscar. But it’s imperative that both defenders avoid the temptation to over embellish when they’ve got the ball at their feet; something they both have a habit of doing.