Brazilian superstar Neymar sat out the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final with an injury as his team were humiliated 7-1 by Germany, a historic defeat as they bowed out of the finals on home soil in embarrassing fashion.
That Brazil even scored a consolation goal near the end was little more than a further embarrassment, being unable to celebrate or take any joy from the moment.
The pre-match talk centred on the absence of Neymar in attack and, through suspension, Thiago Silva in defence. But while the latter could have made a significant difference to the final scoreline, especially with David Luiz's inept performance, Neymar would have prevented very little of the massacre occurring.
What a beautiful tribute to Neymar the Brazilian players did. Neymar couldn't play, so neither did the rest of the team.— Ana Paula Veiga (@anap_veiga) July 8, 2014
Lack of Service
Neymar's ability to ghost past players, break into space at pace and get shots away from around the edge of the penalty area relies on two factors: service from the midfield and others creating space for him to exploit.
Previous to the World Cup, we have mainly seen Neymar achieve the latter by cutting infield from the left; moved centrally, he has not been able to drift in off the flank anywhere near as much and has frequently found himself doubled up on by opposition markers stationing two defensive midfielders in proximity.
Thus, he has had to rely on passes from deeper midfield players and central defenders, with Neymar then looking to spin and accelerate away from markers, exchange passes or look to shoot from around the 20-metre mark.
Was there any such service for Oscar? Or for Bernard? Very little indeed. Neymar would have been reduced to chasing back in deeper zones than usual to support his defensive players—the first half featured all 11 Brazil players within 10 metres of their own box at times—and looking to begin his runs on the ball from around 60, 70 metres from goal.
By himself, Neymar's natural strengths on the ball would have counted for little here.
Lack of Support
Habitually, Brazil's 4-2-3-1 system should allow for one of the central midfielders to break forward from deep, adding an extra body to the attack with power and passing ability as they move into the final third.
The first 10 minutes against Germany did indeed see such running, first from Fernandinho and then Luiz Gustavo, but that support line from deep soon ended once the first goal went in, disappointingly from a set piece.
Hulk, starting on the left, should have offered pace and width to break in behind Philipp Lahm if the Germany right-back insisted on attacking, but there were few passes for the forward to chase in beyond the back four, and his on-the-ball output was minimal.
Again, with no successful attempts from Brazilian players to make themselves available in space for Neymar to play off, to find through passes for runs off the ball and for himself to receive back one-twos to create space, the No. 10's impact would have been severely blunted—as was Oscar's for large stretches.
If he can't get the ball high up the field, if he can't link with team-mates and if his team simply aren't good enough to keep the ball from Germany, not even two Neymars would have made much difference on the night for Brazil.
The one small, saving grace for the whole debacle is that when the inquest begins on Brazil's absolute failure—semi-final or not, the manner of their exit makes it exactly that—Neymar's name will be mercifully absent.
He gave his all beforehand to drag the team through and paid the price with his fitness, but where the likes of Fred, Paulinho or others may well be ousted by common voice in the aftermath of the finals, Neymar will be heralded as one of few who gave the country cause to hope.
When a new manager is put in place, when the new side is being structured for the forthcoming Copa America, Neymar will once again be at the heart of things, expected to help the improvements take shape.