On the eve of the first semi-final game of this 2014 World Cup between host country Brazil and European powerhouse Germany, much of the current talk centers on Brazil and their young super-icon, Neymar, Jr. For the living troglodytes in football-land, Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra in their win versus Columbia. Neymar’s absence is as much a loss for the rest of the world as it is for Brazil, as one of the world’s most dynamic players will not take part in Brazil’s life or death semi-final clash. The world then is denied the opportunity of witnessing Neymar’s talent on the grandest of stages.
When it comes to Brazil’s success without Neymar, however, his loss is only tragic on the surface. Through five games, Neymar has netted four of Brazil’s ten goals, two more than center defender David Luiz. Coach Scolari has had no trouble turning to the wealth of talent he has at his disposal, as Oscar, Fred, Roza, and Silva have also all contributed to Brazil’s overall firepower. Without Neymar, the goals will continue to drop for Brazil.
In replacing Neymar, Scolari will more than likely turn to Willian, Chelsea’s winger and sometimes center midfielder, or he may turn to Ramires, Willian’s better half at Chelsea. Regardless of whom he starts, Neymar’s position is in good hands.
Brazil’s bigger worry, and their greater loss, will be felt at their defensive end. Team captain Tiago Silva is forced to sit against Germany due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Through the same five games, Brazil’s defense has allowed a miniscule four goals. Silva has started and finished all five of these games, and his omnipresence in the back during the competition has been stellar, strengthening his reputation as being one of the fiercest defenders in the game. Tiago’s absence leaves Brazil playing sans their most vital defensive component, and this could interfere with their chances of playing in the championship of their own tournament.
Scolari’s most effective option in replacing Silva will be Bayern Munich center back Dante. Dante gives Brazil the versatility, size, and physical presence of Silva, but he lacks Silva’s soccer intelligence and instinctiveness for the position. Scolari could choose to further strengthen his depleted defense by bringing in a solid holding or defensive midfielder, perhaps Gustavo or Bernard. If so, we should see a more attack-minded team, with Brazil turning to a true 4-3-3. This is the good news for Brazil.
The bad news, of course, is that Brazil will not advance to the Final. Germany mirrors Brazil’s defensive and offensive prowess. Through their own five games, Germany has scored ten goals, similar to Brazil, and has surrendered only three goals, one less than Brazil. Defensively speaking, Mertesacker and Boateng are mammoth in the back, with Mustafi and Lahm intelligently anchoring the defensive wings. In short, Germany’s defensive unit will spell the end for Brazil.
That is unless Brazil can effectively use their wings. Germany’s lone defensive weakness lies in Mertesacker’s speed, or lack of it. If Brazil presses the pedal and keeps Mertesacker on his heels, Brazil will breach the German wall and find themselves at the end of some scoring opportunities, a rarity against the Deutsch. If it so happens that Brazil wander into Germany’s attacking third, the only person they’ll have to deal with at this point is Manuel Neuer, arguably the best goalkeeper of the tournament. Getting past Neuer will not be easy, but it has been done.
It’s likely that Germany will march into their seventh World Cup Finals appearance, and they will do so against a very hungry Argentina team, which, of course, means that the Argentines will get through the Netherlands, in the other semi-final scheduled for tomorrow, July 9, 2014. The South American country will bask in the glory of home field advantage, and every singing and dancing Argentine in attendance will see their Albiceleste lift the magical Cup. Brazil, like the other thirty-one teams, will be left to their excuses. In their case, Neymar and Silva will fit the bill. And If you listen carefully, you might hear the faint voice of a Mexico fan whispering, “No era penal.”