Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 preview: David Luiz seizes the moment to steady Brazil challenge

Distinctive-looking defender has embraced the World Cup, now he leads a side missing Neymar against Germany seeking a place in the final

Belo Horizonte

His celebration after his spectacular free-kick against Colombia on Friday night would have been the enduring image of Brazil’s quarter-final victory in Fortaleza, but David Luiz’s moment was destined to be overshadowed by something bigger, and bleaker for his country. That was the injury to Neymar and its aftermath has consumed Brazil ever since with the hand-wringing continuing up to the World Cup semi-final with Germany.

LIVE: The latest from Brazil vs Germany

Leading the Selecao out at the Estadio Mineirao in the absence of the suspended Thiago Silva will be Luiz, one of the most recognisable personalities at the World Cup, and one of the few footballers so distinctive as to be instantly identifiable in silhouette. By means of explanation for the famous hairstyle, Luiz really is a surfer, having learnt in Itacare in Brazil’s north-east when he moved there from his home town of Diadema, near Sao Paulo, to play professional football.

The hair also speaks to his occasionally reckless attitude towards the accepted responsibilities of a centre-half which have marked him out as a dangerous maverick at times. But he has become a lot more than that.

 

Video: Sam Wallace previews Brazil vs Germany
Read more: Brazil vs Germany match preview
It’s all falling into place for ruthless Germans
Is versatile Lahm the solution to Germany frailties?

Few players have embraced the World Cup finals, or more specifically what it means to be Brazilian in this feverish time for the nation’s football, more than Luiz. It is he who has belted out the national anthem with the best of them. It is Luiz who, after the victory over Colombia, insisted the home crowd in the stadium applaud James Rodriguez off the pitch, albeit after Brazil had narrowly failed to kick him off it.

Luiz is living this Brazil World Cup as any right-thinking footballer should, Brazilian or not. That it is an  amazing opportunity to be grasped and cherished. Not, as some of Roy Hodgson’s team gave the impression, a mildly arresting shop window display at which they can glance and move on.

 

In spite of the pressure on Brazil, Luiz, 27, has displayed a general ease at getting on with things. As the roads around their Teresopolis base were gridlocked on Sunday by supporters just trying to get a glimpse of the team, Luiz seemed unperturbed. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’m vice-captain and this group is very easy to handle because everyone’s very down to earth. It won’t be a tough job at all.”

In terms of Luiz’s public profile, which was non-existent in Brazil up until a few years ago, he is possibly second only to Neymar in his ubiquity when it comes to television commercials. It is Luiz who appears at every break thanking the Brazilian people for their support on behalf of one of the nation’s biggest banks. At Santos Dumont airport in Rio de Janeiro it is a life-size cardboard cut-out of Luiz who helpfully points the way to the TAM airlines check-in desk.

David Luiz is spoken to by Luiz Felipe Scolari ahead of Brazil's semi-final David Luiz is spoken to by Luiz Felipe Scolari ahead of Brazil's semi-final  

When I met Luiz in April 2011 for his first interview after joining Chelsea, he joked that he was barely known in his home country because he had left at the age of 20, before he had made a mark there. His previous club before Benfica, whom he had first joined on loan in 2007, was Esporte Clube Vitoria in Salvador, who played in the third division of Brazilian football. What makes Luiz unusual among his Brazil team-mates is that he has never played top-flight football in Brazil.

His story is quite indicative of many of the squad: no grinding poverty but a whole lot of sacrifice. In Luiz’s case it was leaving his family for two years to play in Salvador, Brazil’s original capital in the north-east, where Benfica scouted him. He did not see his family for two years and he was keen to tell me that his success as a footballer had enabled him to finance his sister Isabel’s studies to become a physiotherapist.

His departure from Chelsea to join Paris Saint-Germain for a fee of around £50m remains a thing of wonder, despite his impressive performances at this World Cup. He has just not been that good for Chelsea in recent times to justify that kind of money, although he has been played out of position in midfield by Jose Mourinho. Curiously, Luiz started both legs in the Champions League against PSG and Atletico Madrid but rarely started in the Premier League after Christmas.

 

Mourinho has long preferred Gary Cahill as the partner for John Terry in Chelsea’s defence, and has very clear views on what makes a good centre-half. As a general rule, Cahill will always hold his concentration better than Luiz. On the other hand, Luiz would have made a much better pretend rock star than Cahill in that dreadful Budweiser advert.

It has been a remarkable three and a half seasons at Chelsea for Luiz, encompassing both the Champions League and Europa League victories. Within a few weeks of arriving in January 2011 he had already been voted the Premier League’s player of the month for March, and had scored against both Manchester United and Manchester City – two more goals at the time than his friend Fernando Torres, who arrived in the same month with considerably more fanfare.

Read more: Fifa to blame for thuggery which cost Neymar
Argentina fans mock Neymar
Without Neymar Brazil need a miracle

Those early days were love at first sight for Chelsea fans. They forgave Luiz’s occasional up-field adventures and loved the personality he showed, but it did not stay that way for all the Stamford Bridge crowd. As he moved into midfield, first under Rafa Benitez, and then Mourinho, there was a frustration with Luiz. When the deal to PSG leaked, the size of the fee meant that it attracted very little opposition at all.

Luiz will be leading a team without Neymar Luiz will be leading a team without Neymar  

There was a time, under Benitez, that Luiz and Torres were considered, inside Cobham, the most influential players within the squad in terms of their relationship with Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich. After the Andre Villas-Boas misadventure, the Chelsea owner had been disenchanted with his old guard and was more inclined to listen to the opinion of his Brazilian. Once Mourinho returned, that changed and right from the start Luiz was used sparingly in the league.

It did not help that, along with others, Luiz arrived late back to pre-season following Brazil’s successful Confederations Cup campaign last year. Yet looking at him now he seems like exactly the kind of strong character whom managers constantly complain there is a shortage of in the modern game. He has taken his opportunity and seems to understand better than most that times like these come around all too rarely in the life of a footballer.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers