SAO PAULO (AA) – Brazil’s World Cup “golden boy” and rising star, Neymar, has again been ruled out of Tuesday’s crunch semifinal World Cup clash against Germany and the rest of the tournament, local media quoted his medical team as saying on Monday.
Hopes were raised after Neymar announced that he still wanted to play in a potential final match in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium Sunday.
But doctors say his third vertebra – fractured when Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zúñiga kneed the Brazilian forward in the back during Friday’s quarterfinal game – needs at least six weeks’ rest.
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has been putting three members of the national team to the test – Willian, Paulinho and Bernard – all vying for Neymar’s spot, local media reported on Monday from the team’s training ground north of Rio de Janeiro.
“Brazil without Neymar, such a leading figure in the team, is a really difficult idea to get your head around, as the only reference we have is from 2011, when the country played five matches without him, and under a different coach,” Mauricio Savarese, football writer and author of “A to Zico“, told the Anadolu Agency (AA).
“Scolari’s record shows that, in these situations, he tends to opt for aggressive midfielders: Brazil is likely to be a counter-attacking side in the semifinal, as they know they can be outclassed by Germany,” Savarese predicted.
As news came from World Cup organisers FIFA that Zúñiga would not be punished over Neymar’s back injury, a decision the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said it would appeal against, it also emerged on Monday that Brazil defender Thiago Silva’s one-match suspension for a second yellow card had been upheld, creating a second void for Scolari.
As the team headed to Belo Horizonte, late on Monday afternoon, there was still no confirmation of who would replace Neymar.
Brazil fans shaken by Neymar exit
Fans speaking to the Anadolu Agency after news broke of Neymar’s exit from the month-long tournament were still optimistic that Brazil could win a historic sixth World Cup victory, but admitted it was a blow to the team.
Among the most pragmatic was Felipe Gomide, a 23-year-old marketing consultant from São Paulo, who told AA anything could happen against three-time World Cup champions Germany:
“Yes, Neymar got hurt but he wasn’t even the man of the match [at the quarterfinals], so I think the team can continue without him.”
Others thought the team would suffer without their leading light: “Things will be more difficult without Neymar, but it’s not impossible,” 28-year-old Gilmar Brito, a chemical engineer from Campinas, said. “We Brazilians remain confident.”
“I think Brazil is really going to feel his absence, as he’s one of Brazil’s main players, but I think it’s going to mean the team is a lot more motivated now,” São Paulo student Carolina Galipero, 25, said.
Many Brazilians were visibly shocked by Friday’s news the team’s golden boy would be out of the World Cup, now bereft of a previous certainty Neymar would carry the country to glory.
Brazil must ‘move on’
However, a number of commentators have echoed the opinion that Neymar’s exit could in fact bring the Brazil side closer together, motivating a team that has been deprived of the attention lavished on the young forward.
Some of the biggest figures in Brazilian football have also tried to put the situation into perspective:
“Everyone was really terrified with the injury [Neymar] suffered and of course Brazil has lost not only a star player, but also an expectation of goals,” footballing legend and World Cup ambassador Ronaldo told FIFA.com.
“But we have to move on. The team is always going to be the favourite against any team in the world,” said Ronaldo, joint top World Cup scorer with Germany’s Miroslav Klose.
German coach Joachim Low said he was expecting a physical game Tuesday, with scant usual flair from Brazil, who have so far picked up 96 fouls and 10 yellow cards in the tournament:
“They’re playing more robustly than any other team here,” Low was quoted by BBC Sport as saying.
“There’s little left of that traditional style of football.”
Many will be on the edge of their seat Tuesday, as the whole World Cup giants clash for a chance to meet either the Netherlands or Argentina in Sunday’s final.
But for 24-year-old student and Brazilian football fan Ricardo Becker, who is of German descent and lives in the southern host city of Curitiba, Tuesday’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte can have no losers:
“Germany knows it must respect Brazil, which remains an excellent side, and bring their top game,” he told AA.
“A Brazil win would be amazing, but given they’ve already won five times, and Germany has only taken the trophy home three times, I suppose I’m rooting for the Germans just a little more.”