David Luiz

Is this the end for Brazil?

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.

The loss of captain Thiago Silva is a massive blow to Brazil

The loss of captain Thiago Silva is a massive blow to Brazil

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.

Can Brazil cope without Neymar?

Can Brazil cope without Neymar?

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.

Willian and Ramires are possible replacements for Neymar

Willian and Ramires are possible replacements for Neymar

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.

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Brazil 1 – 1 Chile (3-2 on penalties)

It was a hugely dramatic night in Belo Horizonte as Brazil came out on top in a penalty shoot out, after 120 minutes of gripping football failed to separate these two South American sides.

It was Brazil who drew first blood after 18 minutes. Thiago Silva’s flick from Neymar’s in-swinging corner fizzed towards David Luiz at the back post, only for Jara, a man whose night would be filled with tragedy, to nudge the ball inadvertently into his own net.

Shortly after, Neymar, looking bright, showed great pace and trickery to burst into the Chilean box but could only drag a weak shot well wide. Brazil looked much the better side in the opening half hour, as the terrifying atmosphere created by the wonderful home support at the Estadio Mineirão seemingly overawed the Chilean players.

However, a sloppy touch after receiving a throw in, saw Hulk, who was off colour for much of the 90 minutes, gift Chile possession deep inside the Brazil half. Eduardo Vargas couldn’t believe his luck as he stole in and slid a ball to Alexis Sanchez who in turn slotted home from close range. It was a dreadful goal to concede from a Brazilian perspective, especially as they had dominated for much of the game so far.

Sanchez’ goal injected life into the Chileans who now looked far more comfortable on the ball, no longer relying on pacey counter-attacks. That said, Brazil continued to have the better of the play as a stunning ball from Oscar left Neymar again in a dangerous position inside the Chilean box. This time the young star hesitated, allowing defenders to smother the attack. Their attempted clearance, however, almost saw Fred score a lucky goal as the ball bounced off the foot of the number 9, only to fly narrowly over the crossbar.

Dani Alves’ superb swerving strike from range forced Bravo to parry the ball over his cross bar, while Fred tragically miscued one of his many off-target shots in the first half. A mistake from Luis Gustavo allowed Sanchez to play Aranguiz through on goal, only for Luiz to get back and smother his effort, conceding a corner.

That would be the final play of an exhilarating half which had plenty of chances, errors and fouls, at times threatening to boil over –  Fred and Gary Medel exchanged a heated moment as they trudged off at the interval.

It was a slightly cagey start to the second half but on 55 minutes the Mineirão exploded as Marcelo’s long ball into the box found Hulk who controlled and sliced a finish across Bravo and into the bottom left corner of his net. The ecstatic Porto man wheeled away to the home support, only to realize that Howard Webb had blown his whistle, with either he or his assistant Mike Mullarkey having adjudged Hulk to have used his arm to take the ball down. After several studies of the replays from various angles, it seems that somehow, incredibly the officials made the correct decision.

The game again turned slightly more subdued and it was Chile who were having the better of the play, with Cesar forced into a superb reaction save from Aranguiz’s powerful close range effort.

Scolari felt he had to change things and hauled Fred off after yet another disappointing display. His replacement Jo almost made an instant impact but somehow failed to get any sort of a solid contact on Hulk’s wicked ball across, perhaps justifying his lack of game time for Manchester City despite his inflated price tag.

The game rather petered out and extra-time looked inevitable, despite two saves from Bravo as Neymar had a headed chance and Hulk struck from distance.

Extra-time continued in much the same vein as the second 45, but still had the odd moment of exciting individual skill, most notably as Hulk, who was the best player in this period, danced past two Chilean defenders and forced another smart stop from Bravo.

This was one of few moments of quality in the latter stages, as players inevitably tired. Jo again fluffed his lines while the equally beleaguered Pinilla, Chile’s substitute, hit a few poor shots either off-target or into defenders. However, right at the death, that man Pinilla left Brazil inches away from crashing out of their own tournament as he smashed a thunderous drive against the upper half of the crossbar, in what would be almost the final play before the shoot-out.

 

It was 2-2 after four penalties each, with two smart saves from Cesar, a limp attempt from Willian and the pick of the bunch from Aranguiz. It was now sudden death, and who else but Neymar would step up and take such a crucial penalty for the Brazilians? It would have surely been too cruel for him to miss and after a tricky run-up he slotted home in a fittingly cool fashion. Chile’s hopes now rested on free-agent Jara, recently released by Nottingham Forest and the man who put Brazil in front early on. His bad luck was not up, however, as he sent the Brazil players, staff and fans into raptures as his penalty cannoned back off the post.

 

The result was harsh on Chile, but Brazil probably deserved their victory despite their less than convincing performance. Scolari will surely need to address some pressing concerns with his side’s play, notably their low passing accuracy – Fernandinho and Luis Gustavo both culpable, and also whether Fred can really justify a place in the starting 11.

 

Player Ratings:

 

Brazil:

Julio Cesar – 8:
Made a stunning save from Aranguiz and was solid throughout the match. Also superb in the shoot-out.

Alves – 7:
Not always the most defensively assured but had one brilliant effort at goal and put in several dangerous crosses.

Thiago Silva – 6:
Solid on the whole but wasn’t alert to the danger for Chile’s goal. Made a few good tackles later on, though.

David Luiz – 6:
No real errors today for a man who is often guilty of sloppy defending, and would have found himself on the score-sheet had Jara not done the job for him.

Marcelo – 7:
Excellent going forward, had a chance early on and put several great balls into the box, the best of which led to the big controversy with Hulk’s alleged hand-ball.

Fernandinho – 5:
I understand why this was Scolari’s only change, as he looked impressive as a substitute against Cameroon. But the Man City man failed to make any real impact and actually gave away more fouls than he made passes in the Chile half.

Luis Gustavo – 5:
Not great in possession and guilty of giving away too many fouls, also gifted Chile a chance at the end of the first half. That said he did win the ball back importantly on a few occasions and didn’t stop running.

Oscar – 5:
Frustrating afternoon for the Chelsea man as he really didn’t see much of the ball. Did make one or two good long distance passes but was on the whole disappointing.

Hulk – 7:
Wasn’t at his best in the 90 but still threatened on occasions and was easily the best player in extra time. Was perhaps unlucky to have his goal disallowed and also could have had an assist had Jo got contact on his cross.

Neymar – 7:
Certainly Brazil’s best player in normal time but looked tired towards the end of the game. A number of moments of individual quality but was guilty of passing up a few good opportunities.

Fred – 4:
A passenger throughout the game and hit several feeble shots wide of the mark. Still don’t think he adds anything to the side and Scolari must surely be considering other options

 

Subs:

Jo – 5: (on for Fred – 62 mins)
Not much better than the man he replaced, made little impact and scuffed a good chance.

Ramires – 6: (on for Fernandinho – 72 mins)
Was inevitably full of running when he came on and stretched Chile’s tiring midfield at times.

Willian – 6: (on for Oscar – 106 mins)
Looked fairly lively with one good cross and one good free kick in the dying minutes of the match. Could have done more though.

 

Chile:

Bravo – 8:
My choice for man of the match, with a string of superb saves he kept Chile in the game at times. By no means at fault for the goal, either.

Isla – 7:
Looked solid defensively and also got forward well.

Silva – 7:
Strong in defence and made a number of important blocks.

Mena – 5:
The least assured of Chile’s defenders as he was beaten far too often by Neymar and struggled when Marcelo got forward.

Medel – 6:
A typically combative display from the Cardiff man, with a number of characteristically strong tackles a few of which actually saw him get the ball.

Jara – 5:
Mercilessly unlucky both with the own goal and the penalty miss. Was generally solid for the rest of the game but no doubt a game to forget for him.

Vidal – 7:
He’s the man who makes Chile tick, and he started off a number off attacks with pinpoint passes. They didn’t look the same side after he went off.

Vargas – 6:
Looked dangerous on occasions but was subbed off before what was probably Chile’s best period.

Aranguiz – 7:
Always looked to get involved and had two good chances; the first saw a good block from Luis and the second forced a stunning save from Cesar.

Sanchez – 8:
A constant threat on the counter in the first half and showed his quality throughout the match. Finished his only clear-cut opportunity with typical precision.

Diaz – 6:
Had some good link up play with Sanchez and Aranguiz but blasted a few shots and a free kick way off target. Failed to carve out any real chances.

 

Subs:

Gutierrez – 5: (on for Vargas – 55 mins)
Given plenty of time to make an impact did little to impress.

Pinilla – 6: (on for Vidal – 87 mins)
Was generally wasteful but was a few inches away from sealing a famous victory with a fabulous effort right at the end of the game.

Rojas – 5: (on for Medel – 108 mins)
Not really given long but barely touched the ball.