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For Brazil, the void of Neymar could be too big to fill

The Selecao have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, drawn to face Germany in Belo Horizonte this evening

Published: Updated:

When Neymar tumbled to the ground, clenching his lower back, the ground could have opened up around him. It could have been a great scene from an action movie. It wasn’t just the impact of his fall, but the shockwaves it sent around Brazil.

Neymar is the star of this Brazil side. He is the Pele, Garrincha or Ronaldo of his modern generation. He even appeared on Brazilian TV to speak about his injury, having spent the last 24 hours being delicately chauffeured around by Helicopter.

“The importance of Neymar for Brazil is evident, undeniable. The lad is the great player of this generation; he scored twice in the first game; he is in charge of the dead-ball situations; he is one who dribbles the most ... But if there is still something he needs to correct, it is his propensity to commit fouls and receive yellow cards,” said ‘GloboEsporte’ on Saturday.

Neymar has rarely been out of the spotlight in the last 12 months. He was subject to a €57 million move to Barcelona from Sao Paulo - and the headlines didn’t stop there. Barcelona were accused of embezzlement with large chunks of the transfer fee heading to a company close to the family. The club eventually was forced to pay a sizeable sum to the Spanish tax authorities. A transfer ban was eventually lifted by FIFA after other rule breaches.

He has scored four goals at the 2014 World Cup - and this is his tournament, according to one of the greatest footballer of all-time. “This is Neymar’s first World Cup and nobody knows exactly what is going to happen. It is a big responsibility for him,” Pele said.

But perhaps the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Neymar’s maturity for a 22-year-old is utterly outstanding. The composure, as he swaggered up to take a vital spot-kick against Chile in the Last 16; the ice-cool run-up and the perfect conversion. If the Barcelona attacker hadn’t truly arrived by now, then he has affirmed his status as a global star.

“Neymar sets the standard for us. He is capable of deciding any game, so playing without him will be difficult,” Chelsea midfielder Willian said to reporters in the mixed zone after the first match against Mexico.

“We know the quality that we have. We are all very sad at losing him but we are now even stronger after what happened and we can continue to pursue our dream.”

Neymar’s injury is a cruel blow at an important time for Brazil. The Selecao have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, drawn to face Germany in Belo Horizonte this evening. It’s the first time either world heavyweight has clashed at a World Cup semi-final and the first meeting since the 2002 World Cup final.

The 22-year-old and his international captain Thiago Silva will miss the clash with Germany. Dante of Bayern Munich is an adequate replacement for the PSG stalwart, yet the vacuum left by the injured Neymar needs filling. But as a cultural and social icon, are Neymar’s shoes too big to fill?

In Shakhtar Donestk’s Bernard, Luiz Felipe Scolari has a nippy, pacey winger who had shown some neat touches in the Confederations Cup last year. Bernard is probably most similar to Neymar in the options on the bench and can feature either on the left or right-hand side of the attack.

Maybe another interesting point on Bernard is that was born in Belo Horizonte and his inclusion would certainly turn the atmosphere up a notch. It could be a valuable tool for Scolari to regain the momentum in this World Cup.

Also in reserve, the former Chelsea boss has Willian. While the 25-year-old is a winger by trade, there are more defensive characteristics in his performances for Chelsea. Of course, coached by Jose Mourinho, Willian is aware of his defensive responsibilities.

With Germany not preferring to use an orthodox wing-back throughout the tournament, the need for extra defensive cover seems fruitless. The omission of Neymar for the rest of the competition is a problem Scolari will need to find a feasible solution for. The change is huge, but even more so, the pressure of an expectant nation could be a swaying factor in his decision-making.

Neymar will be watching from his hospital bed - but Brazil needs a new icon. The page is still to be written in this enthralling novel.