There are few soccer nations that immortalize their icons of the game quite like Brazil. Ahead of this World Cup, we were treated to imagery of Brazilian greats gone, reminded of their stature in the in the history of the Selecao. Garrincha, Pele, Carlos Alberto, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Rivaldo and Ronaldo: all giants of soccer and Gods of the national team.
It was widely assumed that the next man in that list was set to be Neymar. The 22-year-old bore the expectations of a fanatical host nation on his shoulders with a swagger, netting four goals in Brazil’s opening five games and sprinkling his stardust on what were some pretty average team performances. He was the talisman, the mercurial genius that would galvanize this group to glory.
But if Brazil are going to seize that elusive sixth World Cup win—the Hexa—then it’ll be without the Barcelona man, who’s tournament was cruelly curtailed by injury. Now, while this team have typically shifted the responsibility onto Neymar throughout the competition, there’s a marvelous chance for another player to etch themselves into the illustrious history of the Selecao. And the most obvious candidate is Oscar.
The Chelsea man has been shifted around this Brazil team to accommodate for the majesty of Neymar, but with the golden boy out, Oscar should return to his preferred orthodox No. 10 role. It’s from that position that he’ll face the unenviable task of replicating—perhaps even bettering—the contribution of the stricken hero.
But in the semi-final against Germany, don’t expect that contribution to come with the same flourish that Neymar brings, for stylistically, he and Oscar are polar opposites. The Barcelona man plays with a flamboyance incomparable to many, but the Chelsea midfielder—while still a supreme technician—is a lot more understated in his work.
And perhaps against this extremely capable German outfit, that is exactly what the Selecao need. The host nation has yet find their fluid best prior to this last-four clash and without Neymar, they’re very unlikely to do so. If Brazil are to triumph in these last two games then the victories won’t be a product of Joga Bonito, they’ll be centred around a physical and diligent philosophy.
It’s a style that despite his sleight somatotype, will compliment Oscar. To look at, he isn’t a player you’d expect to be dynamic and industrious, but he is. Despite having failed to sparkle as an attacking force since the opening game of the tournament, the 22-year-old has never waived his defensive duties.
Deployed out wide to allow Neymar the freedom to roam from a central berth, Oscar has made metronomic vertical forays down the flanks. He has unrelentingly pressed the opposition back-line and he has ratted around in the centre of midfield. In Brazil’s five matches so far, he has covered a staggering 31 miles, more than any Selecao player.
In that sense, he’s already an important figure for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team. But against Germany his influence will be critical. As the team’s No. 10, not only will he have a duty to create chances for his teammates, but he’ll be vital in disrupting the rhythm of Die Mannschaft’s midfield triumvirate.
Scolari will have surely sighted Oscar’s defensive attributes as a way of potentially stifling the German dominance in the middle of the field, something that’ll be vital to Brazil’s hopes of progression. If Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos are afforded the time to knock the ball around, then it’ll be tough for Brazil to regain the initiative in that area of the pitch.
If Joachim Low’s team dominate possession, then a crowd that will surely be gripped with apprehension will get even more edgy. Scolari can’t afford for that anxiety to transmit itself onto the players and manifest into a tepid performance; his team must disrupt the German balance in that area of the pitch.
So Oscar has a big job to do. Without the ball, he’ll have to drop onto the deepest of that midfield trio and try to give the Selecao a foothold in the midfield. In addition, he must escape the attentions of his German opponents when the hosts do turn possession over and make astute decisions in dangerous areas.
It’s a critical assignment in a huge game, one that a lot of 22-year-old players would crumble when tasked with. But after Neymar showed us all he could handle the pressure of being Brazil’s main man, now it’s time for Oscar to do exactly the same.
And he can do it. Early in the season for Chelsea, he was the standout man for Jose Mourinho’s side, striking a blend of poise and purpose that is so coveted by the Portuguese boss. He must rediscover that marriage of desirable attributes when donning the famous yellow strip.
While Neymar seems the type of character that relishes the spotlight, Oscar seems a little more sensitive and introverted. But like it or not, he’ll be thrust into center stage against Germany and a nation will be expecting him to perform. If he does his job with distinction, then Brazil have a great chance.
Who knows? Perhaps we’ll have another, somewhat unexpected name to accompany that pantheon of Brazilian greats. Opportunity knocks for Oscar.