The first half of the FIFA World Cup Semifinals are set up for Tuesday, as the Germans face a Brazilian team who will be without their star player, so the big question is how will Brazil cope without Neymar? In the quarterfinals of the tournament Juan Zuniga of Colombia collided with Neymar resulting in the Brazilian player being carried off by a stretcher from the field. He reportedly could not feel his legs for a period of time, and it has been reported that he will miss up to 45 days because of a fractured vertebrae. Neymar had led the Brazilian National Team in goals at the FIFA World Cup with four through the first five games.
There are two viable options to replace Neymar if coach Luiz Felipe Scolari wishes to keep the same 4-2-3-1 formation that the Brazilian squad has been using since the tournament began. Those two players are Willian and Bernard, both of whom are attacking midfielders who are more creative than they are clinical finishers. Willian is also a more capable defender than Bernard, but in replacing Neymar one is rarely looking for defensive capabilities.
Willian is being tipped by many as the favorite to replace Neymar, because he has more experience playing at a higher level of football. He played consistently for English club Chelsea last year under Jose Mourinho, playing in total of 42 games. Where as Bernard only played in 27 games at the Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk, and it was only his first season of European Football, previously playing in Brazil. Bernard has been featured as a substitute twice so far in the tournament and Willian once more with three substitute appearances. Bernard was born and bred in Belo Horizonte, Brazil where the game is to be played, so it would be a dream come true to start a semifinal of the tournament in his hometown.
It is likely that either player picked by Scolari would line up out wide on the flanks. In contrast, Neymar’s role at the FIFA World Cup was more creative centrally, playing behind the central striker, but also having the license to float in the wings. He decided matches by running forward and driving straight at the defense, unleashing shots or dribbling into and around the box to draw a foul. The player that will take up the mantle of a number 10 central attacking midfielder will be Oscar. The young Chelsea player is more suited for a central role, but has been pushed to wings because Neymar needs more freedom to create centrally. Oscar has a better eye for the goal than both Bernard and Willian, and will therefore likely slip in behind the central striker.
Some have also suggested that Jô could replace Fred in Neymar’s absence as the central striker in the FIFA World Cup, because in coping with the loss of their number 10, the Brazilians will need a player with more movement to take on a slower German defense. Fred is much more of a poacher who looks for small gaps to get on the end of crosses, and someone who can link up play with his midfielders running beyond him. Jô on the other hand is a bit more dynamic and can cause problems with his movement through the channel of the defense. He may not be as polished a finisher as Fred, but Jô could lead some of the German defenders out of position and allow players like Oscar, Hulk or Willian the opportunity to get into the box unmarked.
The other big issue that Brazil is facing in the Semi-final of the FIFA World Cup is how to replace their captain, Thiago Silva. David Luiz will apparently step up to take the captaincy, and it is likely Dante will slide in central defense along side him. Dante will be familiar with many of the Germans, as he plays his club football for Bayern Munich.
Luiz will need to be the player to truly elevate his game and lead his team from the back, as he has shown he can do this tournament, already having two goals in the last two knockout games. His belting out of the national anthem has shown his emotional desire to his country, and now he needs to lead his country to another final in the Maracanã on Sunday. The question of how Brazil will cope without Neymar will have to be played out on the field in the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup, but if Luiz, Oscar, Hulk and company are to get through to the final, then they will need to use the emotions of the crowd at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte to their fullest advantage.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash