COMMENT: Maligned in the domestic media, the on-field leader of the Selecao responded in decisive fashion by scoring the first goal and holding firm as Colombia threatened late onBy Robin Bairner in Fortaleza
Prior to Brazil’s group match with Mexico, Thiago Silva proclaimed that this was not "a World Cup for defenders". Over the course of the last few hours, the captain of the Selecao has been proven wrong, most notably as his side overcame Colombia 2-1 to progress to the semi-finals.
After Mats Hummels headed Germany past France, the Paris Saint-Germain defender took fewer than 10 minutes to scrappily turn home at the back post following a corner, with marker Carlos Sanchez left staring.
It was the first time a Brazil captain had scored at the World Cup finals since Rai found the net in 1994 against Russia. Rai was replaced as skipper in that competition by Dunga and there will be someone else wearing the armband on Tuesday against Germany after Silva collected a needless yellow card and a suspension in Fortaleza.
The absence of their captain represents a huge loss to the hosts, though the performance of David Luiz, including a breathtaking second goal via a free-kick, was encouraging.
Silva was the rock from which the home side built their challenge, re-asserting himself as the premier player in the world in the centre-back position after a difficult week that saw his leadership qualities questioned in the domestic press following his tears in the penalty shootout win over Chile.
Speaking on Thursday, the 29-year-old stated: “I don’t need to worry about what people say. This is just the way I am. It’s a natural thing for humans to be emotional. People are saying some silly things and that could make it more difficult. But it helps me.”
Certainly, the performance produced by the defender at Fortaleza’s Estadio Castelao was every inch that of a leader.
Silva, of course, would not habitually expect to contribute offensively, yet he was alert to open the scoring in the early stages and then built on this by demonstrating his wonderful defensive qualities.
The pick of these is arguably his reading of the game, and after a stunning burst from James Rodriguez had left Brazil exposed to a three-on-one counter, Silva was astute enough with his angles to cover any easy pass. The Colombians’ most dangerous moment – aside from the late penalty the Monaco playmaker converted – had passed.
That Julio Cesar went until almost the 40th minute without a meaningful touch of the ball owed much to the defence, in which Silva played a starring role with a couple of excellent blocks. Even with David Luiz prone to making the odd eye-catching burst forward, the Selecao never looked under any meaningful threat.
The effort was not solely down to Silva. In midfield, the contributions of Paulinho and Fernandinho were far above the level that either has previously attained during the tournament, and their contribution behind the offensive players was another vital stone for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side. With the ball they were sharp and incisive, while robust enough to keep James from having a defining influence on the game.
Even the attack did not look quite as Neymar-dependent as it has been at times during the competition. Hulk, effectively playing on home turf as a native of Brazil’s north east, was particularly bullish with his play while even Fred contributed meaningfully with a number of promising lay-offs.
Neymar was restricted to a handful of dangerous bursts and went off with a concerning injury late on, while Oscar was limited in his contribution offensively.
Indeed, it was the defence and not Neymar that saw Brazil through their toughest challenge of the competition, and keeps them on track for the Hexa.
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