COMMENT: The Barcelona forward suffered a fractured vertebra in the win over Colombia on Friday and his World Cup is over. Without him, the hopes of the Selecao seem slimBy Ben Hayward in Belo Horizonte
Brazil's worst fears have been confirmed. When Neymar left the pitch against Colombia on a stretcher on Friday following a reckless challenge by Juan Zuniga, a nation held its breath. But just two hours later, team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar told the Brazilian public on live television just what they didn't want to hear: Neymar was out of the World Cup.
So forget a rapid return on Tuesday for the semi-final against Germany or a possible recovery in time for the final on July 13th. Neymar has a fractured vertebra and will be sidelined for between four and six weeks. His World Cup is over. And without him, Brazil's campaign may also be finished.
"It's a dream [to play in the next round], but we're a bit sad Neymar is out of the competition," David Luiz said after the game. "He's a great guy, a great person and a great player. He brings good things to football. Everyone feels a bit sad because he's like a brother to me. We'll try to win the competition for Brazil. It would be great if we can win and celebrate with him."
Earlier, in the post-match press conference, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had been pessimistic. "Everyone knew that Neymar was going to be hunted," he said. "He was kneed on his lower back and he was crying out in pain and I can guarantee that it won’t be easy for him to recover, based on what the doctor told us and the pain he’s in."
However, the Brazil boss claimed his side could cope without the 22-year-old. "If anything has to change, we’ll do that and we’ll play a great game [against Germany]," he explained. That, however, will be easier said than done.
Neymar was Brazil's best player by far in the group games, scoring four goals in the wins over Croatia and Cameroon. He also hit home what turned out to be the winning penalty in the shootout against Chile following a 1-1 draw earlier this week. In an efficient and workmanlike side, the 22-year-old was unquestionably the shining star - the man making the difference.
But now he is gone - and there is no real replacement within the squad. The one Brazilian player with the 'X-factor' Neymar brings to the table is Ronaldinho, but Scolari gave up on the former Barcelona forward a long time ago. Likewise Kaka. In Neymar's absence, Felipao looks likely to turn to Chelsea's Willian, while Bernard is another alternative and Scolari could also opt for a formation change - although that seems unlikely.
Germany are up next in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday and on the evidence of Brazil's previous performances in this tournament, Joachim Low's men have little to be afraid of - especially without Neymar. Brazil remain a strong side, but with their best player out, much of the fear factor will also be missing.
Scolari is set to opt for a European-style, high-tempo pressing and passing game, placing his faith in a strong collective more than ever before. But with Thiago Silva suspended against Germany and Neymar now sidelined for the remainder of the competition, Brazil face a tremendous task if they are to win this World Cup. Right now, it looks a little too much to ask.