Rio de Janeiro: News of a back injury that has ended Neymar’s FIFA World Cup campaign prompted a national outpouring of grief in the streets of Brazil Saturday.
But in his office at the Selecao’s training base in Teresopolis, about 100km north of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Felipe Scolari had no time to wallow in pity, reports Xinhua.
The Brazil coach has a problem. And with a semifinal against Germany less than 72 hours away, he has little time — let alone resources to — to solve it.
There can be no mistaking that this Brazil team is built around Neymar.
The Barcelona star has scored 35 goals from 54 international appearances since winning his first Brazil cap in 2010.
Despite being just 22, he is now sixth on Brazil’s all-time goalscoring list, having already surpassed greats like Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Tostao.
Such form has prompted Scolari to unashamedly make the former Santos prodigy the centrepiece of his Plan A, B and Z.
After Brazil’s 4-1 victory over Cameroon in their final World Cup group match June 23, Scolari was surprisingly forthright about Neymar’s importance to the team.
“Brazil depend on Neymar like Argentina depend on Messi,” the 65-year-old said.
“They are players that make a difference due to their unique qualities. Neymar is the reference point for Brazil, just like Messi is for Argentina.”
Understandably, Brazil captain Thiago Silva attempted to tone done that line of thinking after confirmation of Neymar’s injury Friday night.
“We’ve lost our standout player but we have other options. This is where we have to show the strength of the group,” the defender said.
Silva even went as far as offering advice to Scolari, nominating Willian as Neymar’s replacement.
The Chelsea winger is the most obvious choice to fill the void.
His speed and unpredictability provide Brazil, in a broad sense, with like-for-like assets.
Scolari will also be considering winger Bernard.
To many, the 21-year-old was a surprise selection in Brazil’s World Cup squad after he failed to secure a first-team place at Shakhtar Donetsk last season.
But he is a Scolari favourite. The manager has described Bernard as “a player with joy in his legs” and it would not surprise to see him given a chance to show it against Germany.
The significance of Neymar’s injury has been magnified by Brazil’s dearth of central attacking options.
First-choice striker Fred has just one goal in the tournament while his backup, Jo, is in an even greater rut.
The former Manchester City forward has failed to score for Atletico Mineiro in Brazil’s top-flight this year. He has not scored an international goal since last September.
The addition of Willian or Bernard, however, could bring collateral benefits to others.
Not least of which would be to allow Oscar a more central role.
The Chelsea midfielder has looked a peripheral figure at times during the World Cup, being forced wide to accommodate Neymar’s free-roaming mandate behind Fred.
Perhaps more significantly, Neymar’s absence will force others in the team to assume greater responsibility.