The euphoria surrounding Brazil reaching the semi-finals has quickly turned to despair. The delight at Thiago Silva’s and David Luiz’s goals guiding them past Colombia last night was replaced by extreme anxiety as Brazil face the prospect of taking on Germany without suspended captain Thiago Silva and injured key player Neymar. Will Brazil be able to cope without their star duo? Here we look at the impact that each loss will have on them.
Thiago Silva’s absence is a crushing blow in two senses. Whilst Dante is a ready-made replacement of Champion’s League quality, he does not provide the leadership and assured nature that Brazil’s captain brings to the table. Thiago Silva is a leader in everything he does for Brazil. He not only leads by example with his quality on the pitch but also with his battling qualities and complete desire to win. However, the bigger problem for Scolari may be the shift in defence he is forced to implement. Dante is a left-footed centre back and will most likely play on the left side of defence next to Marcelo. This is where David Luiz has been playing throughout the tournament and he will now most likely have to move to the right side and play next to either Maicon or Dani Alves. This may not sound like that big an issue, but a settled back four is the foundation that every good side builds upon. A like for like positional replacement would have been an issue but now Thiago Silva’s absence means it is likely that every player in that backline will be playing alongside someone they are yet to play next to in the competition. This a disruption that Big Phil could really have done without.
Whilst Thiago Silva’s absence is problematic for Brazil, Neymar’s injury, that has ruled him out of the tournament, is utterly disastrous. There is no ready-made replacement for Neymar. He is unique in this Brazilian squad and their most important player. This is not only because of his superior playing ability, where he strikes fear in to any opponent he faces, but also because of the belief he instils in his teammates. When he is on the pitch, the rest of the team and the fans believe that a moment of magic is possible at any given moment and that Brazil will win. This gives the whole side a huge lift. Will that unfazed belief be there without him? It seems that this injury could really rock the Brazilian’s boat and it will be a huge test of character; one that they may not be able to come back from.
So who will replace Neymar in the side? Assuming Scolari keeps faith in the rest of his forward line, I see there being three options available to him: Willian, Bernard or Ramires. Willian would be the obvious replacement. The Chelsea wide man enjoyed a good season in the Premier League but is a very different player to Neymar. He is not on the same level as Neymar in terms of ability to take on a man but what he lacks in terms of beating a man, he makes up for with his industrious approach to the game and he will provide plenty of cover to Marcelo. Bernard is brilliant with his feet and more than capable of taking on a defender but he would offer little cover for Marcelo, which could see him ruled out for a match against the Germans. Ramires, whilst not being a natural winger could actually be Scolari’s first choice as a replacement due to his tactics against Germany.
It is likely that Scolari will allow Germany to have the majority of possession in the match and look to hit them on the counter. This could lend itself to playing Fernandinho, Luis Gustavo and Ramires in the midfield, players who have the ability to break up the play and launch a pacey counter-attack. Oscar could be forced to play wide on the left as Brazil attempt to shake-up their approach. Ramires is the perfect player to launch a quick counter-attack with; his energy levels know no bounds and he will happily run himself into the ground for the cause.
It remains to be seen which option Scolari takes but I think regardless of what he opts for, Brazil’s tournament will end on Tuesday against a German side who are rapidly becoming the favourites. The German’s will be keen to avenge their defeat in the 2002 final at the hands of Brazil and the losses of Neymar and Thiago Silva will prove too much for the Brazilians to recover from.