As he was stretchered off the field clutching his back, Neymar yet again had an entire nation praying on his behalf. Just as they have done at every point of this World Cup, the Brazilian public set their gaze firmly and hopefully on the 22 year old attacker.
So central is Neymar to this Brazil team that many a Brazilian can be forgiven for being more visibly concerned about him staying on the ground after strong challenges than they have when Marcelo touched the ball into his own goal in the opening game or even when Mexico came close to snatching a victory in their second group fixture. In fact, throughout the tournament the Brazilian fans have feared an injury to Neymar almost as much as being knocked out itself. After all, the two seem to be inseparably linked.
While they digested the news of his tournament-ending injury in the hours following the victory over Colombia, Brazilians must have been horribly divided between the joy of a place in the last four of their home tournament and the dismay at losing their star man.
Willian currently looks favorite to come in to the attack in place of the injured number 10. However it will likely remain unclear where in that attack he will play until kick-off against Germany on Tuesday. He has also had an injury scare of his own when he cut short a training session after a collision with Hernanes left him nursing a slight knock. At this stage he is expected that to be fit to start in the semi-final.
Is he a good enough replacement for Neymar? The critics of this Brazil side will perhaps favor a team including Willian, a player who looks to run at defenders, commit them, draw fouls and create space for team mates as well possessing the skill to make something magical happen on his own. They would not favor his inclusion at the expense of Neymar, much rather their current attacking ‘spearhead’ and number 9 Fred.
In the aftermath of Friday’s game one joke circulating around social media was that an injury to Neymar’s back should be no surprise, for he had been carrying Fred all tournament. A slightly cruel joke perhaps given the severity of Neymar’s condition, but one with a dose of harsh truth at it’s core. For all the unwavering and admirable faith placed in him by Scolari, Fred has failed to deliver anything resembling a good performance. He has looked lethargic, even disinterested at times and surely against Germany it is time that he put in a performance which at least displayed some serious desire for victory.