On Friday Brazil came within one match of the national dream—a fabled World Cup final in the Maracana—with their scrappy, tooth-and-nail 2-1 win over Colombia in Fortaleza.
They have earned their semi-final, and in a repeat of the final of 12 years ago, they'll lock horns with Germany in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
However, they'll do so as a much-depleted team.
The cost of victory against Colombia—half tragically unavoidable, the other half needless—was the revelation that Neymar will miss the rest of the tournament, married with Thiago Silva's suspension effective on Tuesday.
Even now, on the morning after the injury report that shook the tournament to its core, the debates on what Neymar means to the Selecao rage on. They do so about Thiago Silva as well but to a lesser extent, something that ought to change.
Brazil's captain is just as important to their World Cup chances as their poster boy, talisman and No. 10.
Of course, Neymar's loss is Brazil's loss, and a loss on a monumental scale.
There isn't a player in the Brazilian squad who can turn a game on its head in the space of a few precious moments like the Barcelona forward can. He's not only Brazil's top scorer but its statistical leader in other crucial categories too, as proven here by ESPN Stats & Info:
It could easily—and rightly—be argued that Brazil still have talented players at their disposal who might attempt to fill the Neymar-shaped void.
Oscar, Willian and even Shakhtar Donetsk's Bernard are perhaps Luiz Felipe Scolari's other options to play in Neymar's place if they are to maintain an attacking edge to be feared.
Brazil's squad is replete with more balanced or defensively minded midfielders, such as the returning Luiz Gustavo, Manchester City's Fernandinho or Inter Milan's Hernanes, but there isn't really anyone else to call upon to fill the talisman's boots. One might feel somewhat vindicated about Scolari's lack of options.
Really think Scolari's missed a trick ignoring Lucas Moura for WC squad. Why take so many average DMs (Ramires, Paulinho etc etc)?— Callum Mackenzie (@callumlarr) May 7, 2014
Lucas Moura or no Lucas Moura, the aforementioned trio of attacking midfielders still have the capabilities to bamboozle defenders, create counter-attacks that can try and bemuse Germany's excellent back line and create goalscoring opportunities from a single moment of ingenuity.
They have those capabilities in spades, even if they aren't Neymar-shaped.
What Brazil are missing—at least for Tuesday and the showdown in Belo Horizonte—is the steely leadership and experience that Thiago Silva provided.
Suspended for a needless illegal challenge on Colombia stopper David Ospina (h/t The Big Lead), the captain, also his side's most experienced centre-back with 51 caps, will watch the Germany clash from the stands.
Silva, on his day, is one of the world's best at his position. He's up there with Vincent Kompany, Mats Hummels and Gerard Pique (just not 2014 World Cup Pique), absolutely no question.
While Dante is a very good deputy—and one who knows Germany incredibly well, through his six seasons in Germany for Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayern Munich, respectively—compared to Silva, he's hardly seen international experience at the highest level, with his 12 appearances for the Selecao.
Which is where Silva's loss will be felt the most.
He provides a sort of imperturbable calmness to Brazil's defence, and without him, that calmness will become a burden, the globe on the shoulders of Atlas—who, in his South American guise, has ridiculous curly hair (h/t The Telegraph).
It might have become cliche by now, but David Luiz is far too volatile and unpredictable a character to remain calm and shoulder the load of leadership for his defence.
He might be able to lash in a free-kick with aplomb, as we saw against Colombia, but whether he can remain focused and provide the stoic, obdurate defensive performance this situation demands of him is another matter entirely.
In these high-pressure situations, and Tuesday is certain to be one of those, a cool head is one of the most underrated of qualities to possess. Cool heads come from international experience, and Joachim Low's Germany have experience by the bucketload. Scolari's Brazil are comparatively lacking.
This particular Brazil side, aside from their Confederations Cup triumph last year, haven't seen a major trophy since their 2007 Copa America triumph, and only three players from that squad find themselves in the current squad (Dani Alves, Fred and Maicon). Their 2011 Copa campaign, unflattering as it was, can be discounted.
That means for the majority of Scolari's squad, this is their first true major semi-final in international football. How will Luiz, Oscar, Willian et al cope under the pressure, considering many of their opposite numbers were at this very stage in South Africa four years ago?
That's where the loss of Silva, as the preeminent commander of Brazil's defence, will be felt the most, especially against a robust and battle-hardened German team that will surely be intensely motivated to go one step further than their dispiriting loss to Spain in Durban last time around.
The summary reads as follows. Neymar's loss seems significant on almost spiritual terms as opposed to footballing terms—he is Brazil's spirit, the talisman to whom his teammates look. Silva, on the other hand, as captain and arguably Brazil's best player, is irreplaceable in the sense that his teammates cannot rally around him on Tuesday—they'll have to rally for themselves.
Brazil's hole to climb out of in order to defeat Germany is huge, a plummet with the sheerest of drops.
It might be a hole only half of their own digging, but if they ascend to the top and find the Maracana waiting on the surface, it will be because of a galvanised, co-ordinated team effort. For now, there is nothing that either Neymar or Thiago Silva can do.
Brazil's World Cup chances are worse off for both absences—dramatically so.
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