Brazil goes into its World Cup semifinal match against Germany without two of its most important players.
Thiago Silva is suspended after picking up a foolish yellow card against Colombia.
The bigger loss is Neymar, the Brazilian No. 10 who had been one of the standout players of this World Cup before breaking a vertebrae in the quarterfinal.
Despite the losses, Brazil is still favoured to advance to the final. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has them as a 65% favourite over Germany.
1. Home field advantage. Home field advantage is more pronounced in soccer than any other sport. That’s part of the reason Brazil hasn’t lost a competitive home game in 39 years. It’s hard enough to beat Brazil on a neutral field, add in the effect of playing on Brazilian soil and it becomes nearly impossible.
2. Germany isn’t the juggernaut we’d thought they’d be. Germany hasn’t looked dominant since its 4-0 win over Portugal to open the tournament. They have a tie and three one-goal wins in their last four games. Just like Brazil, the team is getting pounded at home for what many Germans view as a conservative approach.
3. Brazil can’t replace Neymar, but they have some good options.
Brazil is as deep as any team in this tournament. There’s a bunch of different directions coach Luiz Felipe Scolari can go with his lineup in Neymar’s absence. He can play it conservative, inserting Paulinho into the lineup alongside two other holding midfielders in Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo. He can tweak his starting 11 to attack Germany’s slow full backs (who are all converted center backs), inserting Willian and sticking him on the right flank. He can make a straight substitution, inserting tiny little Bernard into the free-roaming Neymar role.
These Neymar replacements, while not at the level of the Barcelona player, are all stars in their own rights.
This is not a vintage Brazil team. In fact, they have been one of the tougher teams to watch in the entire tournament, ranking first in both fouls committed and fouls suffered. But in a World Cup with no dominant team, they’re still the odds-on favourite to survive.
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