Luiz Gustavo's booking against Chile was a hammer blow for Brazil. They would need to take on Colombia, complete with No. 10 sensation James Rodriguez, without their midfield general. The timing could not have been worse.
They need not have worried.
Brazil had no like-for-like replacement for Luiz Gustavo in their ranks, but they are blessed with one of world football's most intelligent central midfielders in Fernandinho.
Primarily used in a box-to-box role throughout his career, he makes the transition into a holding role appear a simple affair—it is anything but. Against Colombia on Friday night, he harried relentlessly, breaking up attacks throughout and protecting his back four. He was truly insatiable.
His task, it must be noted, was aided by a referee far from the standard expected of one chosen to take charge of a World Cup quarterfinal. The Manchester City star should have been booked on a number of occasions as early as the first half. He rode his luck, though, and ensured Brazil reaped the benefits.
31 - Brazil's most aggressive performance in a World Cup game (1966-2014). Graphic. pic.twitter.com/5WOhh8uKMN— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 4, 2014
He was physical in his approach, perhaps overly so, but the result was that Brazil controlled the midfield area for long periods. Not alone in his harassment of Colombia star James Rodriguez, Brazil ensured the playmaker's impact was minimised.
Fernandinho has played the deepest role in midfield for Manchester City throughout the past season but has rarely been required to anchor as such. When he has, though, he has been similarly combative, as the following tweet attests:
I re watched the early Manchester derby from last year and felt sorry for Rooney. Fer gave him nothing for 60 mins straight. Now Hamez— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) July 4, 2014
There were times when they could not keep James in check, while he was also able to score from the penalty spot. Yet thanks largely to Fernandinho, his impact was minimised.
The former Shakhtar player was also useful in distributing the ball, with his passing and ability to carry the ball past the first man a step up from the absent Gustavo. He will revert to his usual role next time out but has proved himself more than ready to anchor if required.
However, to analyse Fernandinho's impact on the Brazil side since coming into the starting lineup in terms of his technical attributes would be missing a key point.
Luiz Gustavo may be a destroyer, but he is not a leader. Paulinho is more inclined to step up but has been woefully short of form. Fernandinho exudes authority, and it is no surprise that Brazil have looked more stable since he was introduced.
Scolari wanted to break the game up and deny Colombia their natural rhythm. His plan worked perfectly, and at the heart of it all was Fernandinho.
David Luiz was rightfully awarded the Man of the Match crown for his terrific defensive display and free-kick strike. Had he not been awarded the prize, Fernandinho would not have been far from consideration.
It was not pretty, and many will not have approved of aspects of his performance, yet Brazil's approach as a team was exemplified by Fernandinho. He performed his role to his manager's exact requirements, and the Selecao were rewarded.
Brazil may not be the free-flowing side that many would like them to be, but they lack not for spirit, and Fernandinho epitomises their ability to adapt their game to suit all comers. He is a winner, and Brazil may well be too.