As if the 2014 World Cup needed any more engaging storylines, the semifinal stage has turned into an ultimate test of Brazil's willpower in the absence of their brightest talent, Neymar.
The news of young Neymar's fractured vertebra no doubt devastated fans, coaches and players alike. There is little time to grieve and no accommodations for his injury. Brazil must soldier on without its talisman and face the dazzling football machine that is Joachim Low's Germany.
Here is the television info, live stream and start time for the big match on Day 27.
2014 World Cup: Day 27 Info
Matchup: Brazil vs. Germany
Date: July 8
Start Time (ET): 4 p.m.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Who Will Step up in Place of Neymar?
There is no getting around it: Brazil has a gaping hole in its attack without Neymar—who is out for the World Cup with a fractured vertebra—in the lineup.
Hulk has gone scoreless in the World Cup, while Oscar and Fred have mustered just a goal apiece. Oscar will likely play a central role, but his duties lie more in creativity than in finishing off attacks.
This may be a chance for Hulk to shine, as he's looked uncomfortable out on the left wing in some matches. He's completed just 71.6 percent of his passes in this tournament and averaged 2.5 turnovers per game, per WhoScored.com. If coach Luiz Felipe Scolari sees fit to move Hulk into more of a forward, support striking role, it could unleash this star player's natural creative abilities.
Then again, maybe the attack isn't the place to look for Neymar's replacement in production. The Selecao won't care where the goals come from as long as they come, which means it could be someone on Brazil's back line that steps up in this one.
David Luiz hadn't scored for Brazil before this World Cup, but he's knocked in two goals in this tournament. He might have earned himself a place as Brazil's designated set-piece specialist after this peach of a goal against Colombia, via ESPN FC:
The curly-headed hero is all set to captain Brazil in the semifinal. Skipper Thiago Silva—the team's imperious center-back, who also popped up for a goal against Colombia—is suspended for the match for an accumulation of yellow cards. It's a challenging role, but Luiz appears unfazed by the responsibility.
"I'm ready," Luiz said, via a report from Sky Sports. "I'm vice-captain and this group is very easy to handle because everyone's very down to earth. It won't be a tough job at all."
As for the rest of the defense, Marcelo is the likeliest to pop up for an odd goal. He hasn't been much of a threat going forward in this tournament, but he flashes that potential on a regular basis playing for Real Madrid.
Will Joachim Low's Squad Be Prepared for the Match?
Germany coach Joachim Low has been unafraid to shift players around in this tournament to get the results he wants. He's used different approaches and lineups for almost every opponent in this World Cup. Goal.com's Jon Fisher shares Low's comments:
This is one of our tactical strengths in that we can play different ways. Against Algeria it was one specific formation, today it was another with Klose in attack and trying to keep the two full-backs busy. France have many players through the middle so we had to play wide and Lahm is very good at that.
It's nice to have that flexibility when so many players can play multiple positions. Philipp Lahm plays right-back and defensive midfielder, while Jerome Boateng can play in central defense or as a full-back. Thomas Mueller can play as a forward or a wide midfielder and Mesut Ozil is a central playmaker who drifts out to the wings.
Low has plenty of choices, but it's all for naught if his tactical acumen doesn't deliver some hardware.
Journalist Graham Parker, writing for Grantland, gave his take on the expectations surrounding Low in the quarterfinals:
Löw came into the game under pressure — the overhauled vision of German aesthetes of 2006 and 2010 hadn’t won anything — and he was expected to finally deliver with this Golden Generation. His team had even practiced set pieces — no big deal in itself were it not for Löw’s open dismissal of doing so in more idealistic times, since it took away from the time he could spend working on more creative team movements.
Set pieces could still prove to be the difference for Germany in this one. Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all excellent in the air. Hummels scored a beautiful winner against France from a dead-ball situation, via ESPN FC:
A Brazil squad that's engaged in some cynical tactics in this World Cup could very well disrupt Die Mannschaft's emphasis on fluid counterattacks.
"Brazil is an outstanding team that plays at the limit of the allowed and will go over the limit if necessary," assistant coach Hansi Flick told reporters.
The Selecao have committed 19 fouls per game in this tournament, including a staggering 31 against Colombia, per WhoScored.com. This isn't a free-flowing side that likes to dance around opponents. Paulinho, Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo have all done a fine job of protecting the back line and disrupting play in midfield.
It is up to Low to find a solid workaround for Brazil's tactics and return his squad to the World Cup final.
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