Still coping with the loss of their biggest star, Brazil are trying to find ways to remain upbeat about their prospects at the World Cup.
The medical helicopter that took Neymar home with a back injury carried away much of the host country’s hopes for a sixth world title, but the tournament isn’t over and Brazil are one day away from a difficult semi-final against Germany.
“We have to try to be mature in a moment like this,” the Brazil defender David Luiz said. “We are sad because we are missing an important player and someone who was trying to fulfil his dream of winning this title.”
One of the tournament’s main attractions, Neymar had been decisive for Brazil until the devastating injury late in the team’s 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarterfinals on Friday. He was crucial on the field and an essential part of the group trying to win the title at home. He was seen as the joyful youngster who was admired and respected by everyone.
Brazil team doctor Jose Luiz Runco said players were “shocked and saddened” when they heard Neymar would miss the rest of the World Cup.
“It’s sad because we know how hard he worked to be here with us,” striker Fred said. “We know how important he was for us. But we have to look at our group and realize that it still has a lot of quality.”
Everyone knows it won’t be easy replacing Neymar. Brazil thrived when he played well and struggled when he didn’t live up to expectations.
“It’s difficult to lose a player who is so crucial to our team,” veteran right-back Maicon said.
It will be up to coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to find a replacement for the 22-year-old striker and to keep the team in contention for a sixth world title.
The team’s other forwards have been struggling since the competition began, and nobody else in the squad has the characteristics of the Barcelona star.
Instead of using reserve strikers Bernard or Jo, it seems likely that Scolari will pick one of his midfielders to play in the match against Germany on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte. Willian, Hernanes and Ramires are the most probable options.
Making matters worse for Scolari is the fact that captain and central defender Thiago Silva will also be missing because of a yellow-card suspension.
“We don’t know who is going to come in, but we know that we have a lot of quality players in our squad,” Silva said. “We are sad for Neymar and because I’m not going to play, but we have to be prepared despite these absences.”
One way Brazil can stay positive is by looking to the past.
It’s not the first time Brazil’s national team lost their best player to injury during a World Cup. It happened to Pele and Brazil still won the title.
“I was also injured during the 1962 World Cup in Chile, and I was out for the rest of the tournament,” Pele said. “But God helped Brazil continue on to win the championship.”
When Pele hurt a muscle in the second match of the tournament in Chile, most in Brazil said the chances of a world title had diminished. But the team won their next four matches to clinch a second consecutive trophy.
“I hope the same will happen with our Selecao in this World Cup,” Pele said.
Runco thinks that Neymar’s absence can work in Brazil’s favour.
“I think this will help make this group become stronger, it will motivate them to reach the final and win the title,” the doctor said. “They will want to honour this teammate who always helped the team.”
David Luiz said: “We will try to win the competition for our people, for Brazil. Of course, now he is out of the games and everyone is sad, and it would be great if we could win it now and celebrate with him.”
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