Neymar out of World Cup 2014: Brazil agonise over how to replace the irreplaceable

Manager Scolari is left wondering who on earth can come anywhere near filling the magic boots of injured talisman Neymar in Tuesday’s semi-final with Germany

When Brazil’s players gather in their dressing-room in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium ready to face Germany in Tuesday’s semi-final, they will see two things. One will be Luiz Filipe Scolari’s statuette of Our Lady of Caravaggio. The other will be a selection of quotes from famous authors that Big Phil has stuck to the wall. They will, as usual, all be about overcoming adversity, for there is suddenly an awful lot of adversity to overcome.

Brazil’s manager had predicted that Friday’s game with Colombia would not be a “war”. But it contained more fouls than any other match in this World Cup and by the end Scolari had suffered two irreplaceable casualties. That Neymar has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a fractured vertebra in his lower back will trigger some of Brazil’s deepest fears about their own team. If they were to reach the Maracana and a seventh World Cup final, then it seemed essential that the 22-year-old led them there.

The irony is that the sight of the Barcelona midfielder being stretchered from the Castelao after being kneed in the back by Juan Zuniga came at the climax of a match that had seen Brazil, in general, and Fernandinho, in particular, dish it out ruthlessly to Colombia’s two most dangerous players, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez. The Manchester City midfielder did not even find himself booked. Zuniga’s explanation for his challenge was: “I was just defending my shirt.”

The question of who will fill Neymar’s shirt will obsess the nation until the semi-final kicks off. Scolari could switch to a 4-4-2 with Jo and Fred, whose names seem redolent of an Accrington works team, up front. However, Scolari won the World Cup in 2002 with two holding and three attacking midfielders and now is not the time to be tinkering with formations.

 

It was that reluctance to change that saw Scolari keep faith with Bernard Duarte rather than select Paris St-Germain’s Lucas Moura, who had enjoyed a far better season. Bernard once said that he played “with joy in my legs”. After a season at Shakhtar Donetsk that had seen him lose his place amid fears that the Donbass Arena might suddenly find itself no longer in Ukraine, the joy would have gone and the legs would have felt heavier. However, he has something of Neymar’s ability to run at a back four that looks the weakest part of Joachim Löw’s side.

Others would prefer Willian,  another graduate of Ukrainian winters but who has blossomed at Chelsea. When he was nine, watching the 1998 World Cup, he yearned to be Ronaldo. Now he will have to be Neymar. “My money would be on Willian,” said Carlos Alberto, captain of the immortals who won the 1970 World Cup. “He has the talent and he tracks back to defend. I can’t see anyone who could replace Neymar better.”

Read more: Can Brazil win the World Cup without Neymar?
Neymar ruled out of World Cup
Zuniga joins illustrious list of public enemies

If Neymar were the only absentee at the Mineirao on Tuesday, you might still back Brazil to go through. However, Scolari will also be without his captain and best defender, Thiago Silva, booked for attempting to stop Colombia’s keeper, David Ospina, from kicking the ball out of his hands, a piece of idiocy for which Brazil are likely to pay a heavy price.

Löw will be reminded that Germany may have made the semi-finals for the fifth successive time in a major tournament, but four have been lost. However, the demons surrounding Brazil seem far more vivid. It is not just a concern that they have lost their two best players, it is the lack of replacements in a nation that exports up to 1,200 pros a year. 

Juan Camilo Zuniga challenges Neymar Juan Camilo Zuniga challenges Neymar In 1962, Pele, who had inspired Brazil to a World Cup win four years before, got injured midway through their second group game. His place as the team’s inspiration was taken effortlessly by Mane Garrincha.  When Scolari was last in charge of Brazil, he saw Ronaldinho, who carried a similar presence to Neymar’s until Friday, dismissed in the quarter-final against England. Not only did Brazil recover to win the game in Shizuoka, they rolled on to win the final,  the only previous occasion they have met Germany in the World Cup. Brazil no longer have these deep reserves to call upon.

Read more: Fifa selected lenient referees for quarter-finals
Crowds gather outside hospital to support Neymar
Zuniga defends challenge on Neymar

The encounter with Colombia was a thrilling, raw, wild game that at no time seemed to settle into a pattern. Scolari said: “When we conceded, it triggered a momentary bout of panic and then we had to endure an avalanche. I told them to hold the ball up but they kept on pressing forward. They had no need to do that but people have not believed in this team for so long that I suppose they needed to prove something.”

The last time Brazil hosted a World Cup, the nation believed in its players too much. Before the final match of the 1950 tournament the headlines in the Brazilian newspapers were so arrogantly certain of their team’s success that the Uruguay captain, Obdulio Varela, scattered them on the floor of the Maracana’s dressing room and ordered his players to urinate on them. This time the papers have gone the other way and are clouded by doubt. It is difficult to know which Scolari would prefer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital