Brazil Must Accommodate Luiz Gustavo's Absence or Face World Cup Exit

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Brazil Must Accommodate Luiz Gustavo's Absence or Face World Cup Exit
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Had it been speculated before the World Cup that Brazil would face a quarterfinal clash with Colombia without central midfielder Luiz Gustavo, it would have been seen as an annoyance rather than a major concern.

However, after three weeks in which Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil side have failed to hit top gear, it is a major blow that suspension will now deprive them of the man second only to Neymar in performance for his country.

The Selecao may be stuttering in attack and, far too often, nervy in defence, but Gustavo has been calmness personified at the heart of the midfield. With Fernandinho alongside him last time out, Brazil finally appeared to have struck the right balance at the heart of the side.

Alas, for Scolari, it was never going to be that straightforward. A second yellow card of the tournament was issued to Brazil's mustachioed general and he will now sit out for the upcoming clash with Colombia.

What is worse for Brazil, their rivals boast the player who is widely regarded as the best attacking midfielder of the tournament so far.

The most likely outcome for Brazil is that Fernandinho will move into a deeper, holding role to cover for his absence. Ramires or Paulinho would then come into the box-to-box role, most likely the latter.

There is, beyond that, also the possibility of Napoli defender Henrique forming a three-man defensive unit while Hulk joins Neymar up front. Scolari is known to like variations of a 3-5-2 setup and has been trialling the system in training over recent days.

Hassan Ammar/Associated Press
Gustavo has been key to Brazil's defensive stability

Scolari will be aware that a straight swap may not be enough. Colombia have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in midfield, and given Paulinho's poor recent form, Brazil would be in danger of being overrun without Gustavo in place.

Fernandinho has shown for Manchester City that he can play the anchor role in midfield effectively, but City are a different proposition entirely and can call upon the services of the formidable Yaya Toure. Brazil do not have such a luxury.

The worry for Scolari will be in covering for the attacking nature of his two full-backs—a job Gustavo does very well.

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Neither Dani Alves nor Marcelo have been at their best this tournament, and it has left the Selecao defensively weak in wide areas. With Colombia having excelled in attacking on the flanks, it will be a real concern.

Such a debate is a legitimate indication of the progress Colombia have made and the regard in which they are now held. It was not all that long ago that Brazil wouldn't have thought twice about what is effectively a home tie against Los Cafeteros.

But, times have changed, and Scolari should be very concerned about his opponents. That Neymar is set to be fit is a real positive for the Selecao after initial worries, but losing Gustavo is a blow of a similar magnitude.

Brazil almost came unglued against Chile earlier this week, riding their luck to reach this stage. They know that a similar performance this time around will bring their campaign to a premature end.

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