World Cup Diary / Is There Life After Neymar for Brazil?

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Defender Marcelo shouts for help after Brazil's forward Neymar was injured, July 4, 2014.Credit: AFP

Germany is already laying its metaphorical towel on the poolside recliner ahead of Tuesday’s semifinal against Brazil. Coach Joachim Löw and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger were remarkably keen to draw the Mexican referee’s attention to the physical approach of the Seleção, on the eve of the game: “They’re playing more robustly than any other team here,” Löw said of Brazil, while Schweinsteiger cautioned, “Brazilians are not only football magicians. Hard tackling is part of their game. We have to be careful and so does the referee.”

So how dirty are these boys from Brazil? Well, their press officer (yes, press officer) is in the middle of a three-match ban following an altercation with a Chilean player at halftime during the sides’ Round-of-16 clash. The team itself has appeared in the two games with the most fouls (against Colombia and Chile), committing 59 of those 105 fouls. And, lest we forget, it topped the list of teams simulating injury earlier in the tournament. Your honor, the prosecution rests.

In Brazil’s defense, though, its talisman, Neymar, is now recuperating from a broken spinal bone after a brutal assault on him during the Colombia game – a challenge that was more in keeping with “Game of Thrones” than a game of soccer, and far worse than anything the Brazilians dished out. Also, the games against Chile and Colombia were “local derbies,” with emotions running high on all sides.

The game against Germany – the team’s sixth match of the tournament – will be only its second against European opponents (following its opener against Croatia), and should be a different kind of game to the last two battles. Soccer may even break out at some point during the evening.

Will Brazil advance against Germany? The sides have met only once before at the World Cup, with Brazil winning the 2002 final in Yokohama 2-0 (some would say the score was predestined, given the year):

Brazil is sure to miss Neymar, but it’s still the slight favorite, aided by that wonderfully partisan crowd and its forward Hulk showing belated signs of form. By the way, in case you were wondering, Hulk isn’t his real name. Don’t be silly. His real name is Bruce Banner. Sorry, what’s that, you think it’s Givanildo Vieira de Souza? Oh, please, that doesn’t even sound Portuguese.

The Germans have been involved in two of the most entertaining matches of the tournament – the tussles with Ghana and Algeria – and they’re vulnerable when opponents take the game to them, which Brazil is sure to do. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go to penalties, and who would bet against Germany in a penalty shootout?

Wednesday’s semifinal sees Leo Messi vs. Arjen Robben (they’ve kindly agreed to bring 10 friends along to make up the numbers). Argentina has won all of its games by a single goal (including three 1-0s), so we probably shouldn’t expect anything different against the Netherlands. Robben has created a third of his side’s chances at this World Cup, and without him the Dutch would be a paler shade of orange (peach? Papaya whip?). Again, the world will be fascinated to see how the laws of gravity affect Robben when he gets into the opposing penalty area.

The diary has even managed to bore itself with comparisons between the present side and the Maradona-inspired Argentina of 1986, when Diego, ahem, almost single-handedly got his team to the final with performances like this one against Belgium in the semifinal:

What makes Messi just as critical, if not more, to Argentina’s hopes is the absence of the side’s only other offensive threat, Angel di Maria. The winger was injured in the quarterfinal win over Belgium – presumably when he tripped over a blade of grass and rolled theatrically all the way to Buenos Aires.

Argentina will be hoping for a repeat of its famous 1978 World Cup final victory over the Dutch, an age when players celebrated goals by leaping in the air repeatedly. Happy days (if you don’t mention the Junta, the disappeared, the hyperinflation, the Falklands…) :

The Netherlands, meanwhile, will be hoping for something more like this:

Despite the strong likelihood that both games will go to penalties, the diary is predicting a Brazil vs. Argentina final on Sunday, which would be the first all-South American final ever. And the first NC-17-rated final, too.

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