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No Neymar, attack not Brazil’s focus
BELO HORIZONTE — With Neymar out and Brazil's forwards ineffective throughout the World Cup, it will be up to the team's defenders and midfielders to keep Brazil in contention at the World Cup.
Brazil is having to turn the focus away from its once-mighty attack ahead of the semifinal against Germany today, hoping the rest of the team will be able to come through and carry the hosts into the final.
Brazil scored 10 goals in its first five matches, with half of them coming from defenders and midfielders. Neymar scored four, with center forward Fred only finding the net once. Defenders scored the team's last three goals.
Without any reliable options for the attack, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is almost certain to replace striker Neymar with a midfielder.
Scolari recently even considered removing Fred from the lineup and adding a third central defender, going back to the 3-5-2 formation that he used when he led Brazil to its fifth world title in 2002.
"We are a team, and a team is not made up only of strikers," Scolari said. "We have a group. When this group wins, everybody wins, regardless of who scores the goals."
Chelsea midfielder Willian is the most likely replacement for Neymar, but in the team's final practice on Monday, Scolari hinted that he may even use three defensive midfielders, with Luiz Gustavo returning to the team after a yellow card suspension.
"We have good players for the sector where Neymar played," Scolari said. "We have options. I'm confident, I'm not worried."
In addition to the Barcelona star, the coach picked four other strikers for the World Cup: Fred, Bernard, Jo and Hulk.
Fred was supposed to supply the goals, but the Fluminense player struggled from the beginning and has been loudly criticized by fans and local media. His lone goal came in the 4-1 win over Cameroon in the team's final group-stage match.
"Fred has been playing for the team," Scolari said. "We can keep winning, even if he doesn't score. Fred is not the only one in charge of scoring. Everyone has that responsibility."
Brazil hasn't had a star striker since Ronaldo stopped playing after the 2006 World Cup. Luis Fabiano was the team's starter in the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
In addition to missing Neymar, Scolari also won't be able to count on captain and central defender Thiago Silva because of a yellow card suspension. Dante, who plays in Germany for Bayern Munich, is almost certain to replace him.
Silva scored one of Brazil's goals in the 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarterfinals on Friday. Fellow defender David Luiz scored the other. Luiz also had scored the team's lone goal in the second round against Chile.
The other goal-scorers for Brazil at its home World Cup were Oscar and Fernandinho, both finding the net in the group stage. (AP)
RIO DE JANEIRO—Brazil and Germany are two of the most decorated teams in football, with eight World Cup titles between them. Both have their share of players among the all-time greats, and both entered this tournament being touted among the main favourites.
So even without the injured Neymar, today's semifinal in Belo Horizonte provides an intriguing matchup for any neutral fan, as Germany and Brazil play each other at the World Cup for the first time since the 2002 final.
Here is a look at how the teams compare in 2014:
Manuel Neuer has been one of Germany's best players this tournament, especially in the knockout rounds. He bailed out Germany's erratic defence numerous times by rushing out to clear ball after ball in the second-round win over Algeria, and made key saves to deny Karim Benzema an equaliser for France in the quarterfinals. The Bayern Munich No. 1 has won just about everything at club level and is regarded as one of the top keepers in the world.
Julio Cesar used to have that reputation as well, but is arguably not quite the player he was during his best years at Inter Milan. He now plays for Toronto in Major League Soccer. He's been solid at this World Cup, however, where he has yet to concede more than one goal in a game. And the 34-year-old Cesar has come up big when Brazil needed him to.
Brazil has always been known for its attacking play, but this World Cup squad arguably has more impressive names in defence. However, the team's best defender — captain Thiago Silva — is suspended for the semifinal, a big blow for the back four. But Brazil has a good replacement in Bayern Munich's Dante to put in alongside David Luiz, while coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to decide whether to put Barcelona's Dani Alves back in at right back or stick with Maicon, who was a surprise starter in the quarterfinals. Real Madrid's Marcelo should guard the left wing.
Germany's defence looked downright awful against Algeria, and coach Joachim Loew responded by dropping centre back Per Mertesacker for the next match and moving captain Philip Lahm to his favourite position as right back instead of midfield. The changes worked, and Germany looked like its old solid self against France. With Mats Hummels back to anchor the central defence — and even scoring the winning goal against France .
Germany's midfield has been given a big boost by Bastian Schweinsteiger returning to full fitness after a knee injury. Playing alongside Sami Khedira, Schweinsteiger can control the pace of the game while also helping out defensively, giving Toni Kroos room to work as the team's main playmaker. While Mesut Ozil has had a fairly lacklustre tournament so far, he's one of the world's best passers and could still prove crucial for Germany.
Brazil's midfield will likely have a new look for this game as Scolari is expected to replace Neymar with a midfielder — probably Willian. The Chelsea player has enough speed and skill to cause defenders trouble, but doesn't have the scoring ability of Neymar. Oscar, another Chelsea player, will also need to step up as a playmaker. Luiz Gustavo is back after a suspension, which should help shore things up defensively.
With Neymar in the team, the forward line was always a strength for Brazil. Without him, it's a glaring weakness. Fred has struggled badly as the team's centre forward at the World Cup, scoring just one goal in fivematches. Hulk has looked lively throughout but has yet to score, while Jo has failed to make an impact when he's come on as a substitute.
Germany, meanwhile, has Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose as its main attacking options. Mueller has four goals so far in Brazil — one short of his tally in South Africa in 2010 — while the 36-year-old Klose has a chance to break the World Cup scoring record. Klose shares the record of 15 career goals with Brazil great Ronaldo, so the Brazilian defenders will probably be extra eager to shut him down. Germany also has better options off the bench, with Lukas Podolski and Mario Goetze to bring on.