Luiz Felipe Scolari urges Brazil on against Colombia in their World Cup quarter-final. Without the injured Neymar, He will need them to play more as a team against Germany in the semi-final.
The last few days have been inevitably dominated by the terrible news of Neymar’s injury and his personal drama. I do hope, though, that the Brazilian players have taken this time to actually think of something else. Saddened as they are at the loss of not only an amazing player but also a player who always stood out as an example of happiness and high spirits, they have to focus on the job lying ahead of them. I will not lie here: the absence of Neymar will make things harder for the Seleção in Belo Horizonte. Neymar is the kind of player that creates some problems for the opposition just by being on the pitch and without him Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to devise an alternative plan to take on Joachim Löw’s men.
Truth be told, Neymar had not played well in either of Brazil games in the knockout stages so far. More notably so against Colombia, when he basically had one shot at goal and was pretty removed from the bulk of the action by the time Juan Camilo Zúñiga took him out. I wasn’t very happy with the way the Seleção resorted to expecting Neymar to sort things out with individual moves. That is always a difficult strategy at such a high level. He scored four goals, of course, but it was worrying to see David Luiz and Thiago Silva hitting long balls to him instead of trying to work things through the midfield. But Neymar can always offer a great outlet for Brazil on the break and he would have been quite useful, to say the least, against Germany on Tuesday.
But I am bit surprised by the split in some reactions. Defeatism and excess of confidence are both wrong here. Brazil against Germany is like a football derby and it has all the ingredients to be an extremely tough match. True, the recent problems in the Brazil camp might have swung the pendulum a bit towards the Germans but I would be surprised if any of Löw’s players are actually rubbing their hands before this semi-final – funnily enough, only the second time these two teams will have met in a World Cup.
I personally think the recent events will be used by Big Phil to galvanise the Seleção spirit. There is a precious chance for him to rally his players towards a strong group performance, based on collective commitment rather than the expectation of individual moments. Brazil have reasons to feel reassured. Their collective game against Colombia was a considerable improvement in comparison to recent performances, although mainly in the first half. With all due respect to Colombia’s great World Cup run, the match against Brazil was always going to be different for them and they were considerably more nervous against the Seleção.
Germany will not treat Brazil like normal opponents either. There has always been a great deal of respect and admiration from them towards the Brazilians. That does not mean they will not try to go for the kill. This match is crucial for this German team and for their coach. The absence of trophies since 1996 hurts in a country with such a strong winning tradition and I understand Löw has been under a lot of pressure to deliver a title. He has assembled a very strong squad and if you like well-played football there is no way you won’t admire players like Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos, for example.
I went to the Maracanã for Germany’s game against France in the quarter-finals and the professional way the Germans played impressed me a lot. They took their chance in that set-piece with Mats Hummels and then resorted to sitting deep, in order to hit France on the break. André Schürrle could have killed the game had he been more accurate in front of goal. Even the veteran, Miroslav Klose, was running like hell. The way the Germans advanced using the midfield looks daunting and Brazil will certainly have to concentrate on disturbing their build-up and look out for opportunities to break. In this sense, Scolari will welcome the return, from suspension, of Luiz Gustavo. He has been one of Brazil’s best players in the tournament and also brings a lot of knowledge about the opponents, including the Bayern bunch.
Dante also knows a lot about the opponents and he is a natural choice to replace the suspended Thiago Silva, assuming the captain’s appeal against his yellow card is not successful. [UPDATE: FIFA rejected the appeal] But Brazil will need an escape valve and I believe it demands the repositioning of Oscar. His switching to a more central role could give the Seleção more quality in midfield and from there Oscar can unleash Hulk, whose runs against Colombia could and should have resulted in at least another couple of goals. Brazil could deploy Bernard and use his pace to put pressure on the wings but Willian is an option more useful for defending and marking. Fred remains a massive concern and I think Scolari has given him enough time – five matches – to show something. But the manager is the one there watching the players almost 24 hours a day.
Last but not least, Brazil cannot forget they will be playing a World Cup semi-final at home with a crowd that will be willing to cheer them on immensely. It’s a special occasion that will demand a lot of heart. It’s up to the Seleção to oblige.
SOURCE: The Guardian
Wonderful article by the legendary Zico. The Guardian is a goldmine of information on the World Cup. Also, the Wall Street Journal has a cool World Cup page here. And finally, here is a very interesting article from The New Yorker on World Cup fashion (I mentioned this in the viewing post and the spam post for NED-CRC)