Still hope despite Neymar loss
8 July ~ Brazil returns to Belo Horizonte tonight for a semi-final encounter with Germany – only the countries' second meeting at a World Cup, the other being in the 2002 final. Without suspended captain Thiago Silva and the injured Neymar Brazil will not be favourites against opponents looking for an eighth World Cup final appearance. The loss of talisman Neymar has prompted a nationwide lament from players, public and media alike, although more optimistic voices note that his impact in the last two games was modest – hence providing a chance to reshape the team's approach and liberating them from "Neymar dependency".
But concerned about the possible effects of losing Neymar, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari called up psychologist Regina Brandão to the team's training base. She performed a similar salvage operation after Brazil were worked over by Chile at the last-16 stage – also played at the Mineirão Stadium.
Brazilians were divided over the tearful reactions of players such as Silva and goalkeeper Júlio César as Chile took the hosts to the brink prior to a dramatic penalty shootout. Some argued that it was a natural release, while others saw the crying as a sign of emotional fragility set against the pressure of expectation.
Speculation has mounted as to how Brazil will line-up to face Germany, with criticism of insipid midfield displays and a lack of punch up front – the latter centring on striker Fred who has only one goal so far. While Bayern Munich's Dante is due to step in at centre-back, Neymar's absence has triggered a debate about whether Willian or Ramires could be drafted in. Bernard, a quick winger closest in style to Neymar, is expected to start on the bench.
Many believe that Scolari will revert to type and mount a defensive barrier in midfield with Luiz Gustavo returning from suspension to join Fernandinho and Paulinho. The Brazilian press has not overlooked the irony of Neymar's injury – Scolari has been under fire since the Confederations Cup for encouraging his own team to commit tactical fouls.
For their part, Germany have proved a popular visitor, especially in their idyllic coastal retreat in Bahia. Critics cite the problems that the team has endured in dispatching opponents such as the US and Algeria, although the team's evolution over the 2006 and 2010 World Cups allied with ability to hold the ball and coach Joachim Löw's chance to perm substitutes from a talented bench, mean that Germany appear formidable opponents.
For Brazil to come out on top it may need home advantage and another inspirational performance from David Luiz. As Brazilian weekly magazine Veja headlines on its current cover: Now It Is All About Spirit. Robert Shaw