Neymar’s replacement needs to step up against Germany and put in a performance that helps send Brazil into soccer’s World Cup final, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said.
The loss of Neymar to a back fracture has dominated discussion in the country of 200 million people since Brazil’s 2-1 quarterfinal win over Colombia on July 4.
Neymar, 22, came into the tournament as Brazil’s main attacking threat and scored a team-high four goals. Without him, the pressure rises on the 22 remaining players to beat Germany today and deliver a record-extending sixth title in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
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“It’s a special moment,” Scolari told reporters in Belo Horizonte last night. “To be on the bench on the national team and to go on in such an important moment as this one.”
Brazilians are anxious to avoid a repeat of 1950, the last time the country hosted the World Cup. Brazil lost the final game 2-1 to Uruguay, allowing its southern neighbor to become champion.
Scolari declined to reveal the identity of the player he’s settled on to replace Neymar. Candidates are Chelsea midfielder Willian and Shakhtar Donetsk forward Bernard. With neither seeing much playing time so far, Scolari has spent the past few days telling understudies they could make decisive contributions.
“They are special,” he said. “They might make the big difference. That’s what we are conveying to our players.”
The winner will meet Argentina or the Netherlands, who play tomorrow in Sao Paulo.
Players and fans were in tears after Neymar was ruled out of the tournament and sports psychologist Regina Brandao was called in to help the team put the loss behind it.
“It’s something we’ve been able to overcome,” Scolari said. “We are already focusing on other things. We already have a different mindset.”
Brazil will also be without captain Thiago Silva, who is suspended for the semifinal after receiving two yellow cards in the tournament. His replacement in defense will probably be Dante, who is likely to come up against as many as six Bayern Munich teammates in the Germany lineup.
Brazil’s coaches have made use of intelligence from players including Dante and midfielder Luiz Gustavo, who played for Bayern as recently as last season.
Such information is “very important in our day-to-day practice,” said Scolari. “When we tell them about how we expect them to play, obviously they then fill in the gaps.”
In his first stint as national team coach, Scolari guided Brazil past Germany in the final of the 2002 World Cup, the last time the South American nation won the tournament.
According to Bloomberg Sports, the loss of Neymar gives the edge in today’s game to Germany, which beat 1998 champion France 1-0 in Rio on July 4 to reach the semifinals.
Brazil has a 49.2 percent chance to advance to the final, down from 56.1 percent before Neymar’s injury, according to Bloomberg Sports projections. Germany coach Joachim Loew said his team doesn’t enter the game as favorite.
“‘Certainly not,’’ he said. ‘‘You shouldn’t believe the absence of Neymar will be a disadvantage.’’
Loew is expecting a physical game and wants Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez to punish fouls more sternly than Spanish official Carlos Velasco Carballo did in Brazil’s quarterfinal against Colombia. In that game, two players on each side were cautioned, even though there were 54 fouls, more than any other match in the tournament.
‘‘There were brutal fouls,’’ Loew said. ‘‘People blocking opponents however they could.’’
Brazil has committed a tournament-high 96 fouls in five games, compared with 57 by Germany -- two less than the host nation amassed in its past two matches. Brazil’s foul count has gone up in every game, culminating with 28 in the round of 16 against Chile and 31 against Colombia.
‘‘Colombia against Brazil was a real fight,’’ Loew said. ‘‘You saw in the Colombia match many fouls from behind, which were really dangerous for the players. You have to protect the players when you’re a referee.’’
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Belo Horizonte at firstname.lastname@example.org
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