Brazil more of a team without Neymar
Neymar's absence may be the best thing to happen to Brazil
(Thiago Silva 9, Roberto Firmino 51)
Fate has, once more, conspired against Brazil.
For the second successive major tournament, the Selecao must trudge on to the later stages without the services of their superstar, Neymar.
There's no point imagining a Brazil without Neymar. It's ridiculous to even entertain the thought that Brazil can play better with him.
But they will be better off in the long run. In fact, this is a blessing in disguise, and exactly what coach Dunga needs.
His absence coerces Brazil to think and play as a team.
It forces them to eliminate an over-reliance on a player who has come to represent an entire team's every joy and sorrow.
The 2-1 win over Venezuela in their final Copa America Group C game yesterday morning (Singapore time) propelled them into the quarter-finals, where Paraguay await.
Without Neymar to turn to at every chance, they struggled at times.
There was Robinho, 31, starting in national colours for the first time in five years - the Neymar of his day who never quite became the finished article.
Entering the starting 11 too was young attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, but his frequent hesitation and poor decision-making emphasised just why he isn't ready to nail down a regular spot.
Attacker Roberto Firmino grabbed his chance with both hands, scoring the crucial second goal for his side, but alas, he is no Neymar.
But there wasn't Neymar's shadow for anyone to hide behind at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano in Chile.
Neither was he around to steal anyone's thunder.
Brazil thought as a collective unit and flowed as a pack.
A defeat by Venezuela would have sent them packing.
The occasion called for everyone to pull his weight and take up his own responsibility.
This was a chance to unlearn the sloppy practices that mushroom as a result of having a superstar in their ranks.
Willian stood tall.
Playing like a true leader, the Chelsea man combined style and substance as he ran the show in Brazil's final third.
Robinho rolled back the years, to the time when he was a raw gem awaiting greater things.
Coutinho showed his potential, if not yet composure.
The three mixed it up at the edge of Venezuela's penalty box and frequently rotated their positions to cause much confusion in their opponents' backline.
The dynamics came about simply because their best player wasn't around.
Thiago Silva, captain during the disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign but overlooked for the armband in this tournament, oozed confidence from the back.
In fact, it was Robinho who delivered the corner for Silva to put Brazil in front in the ninth minute.
The second goal, in the 51st minute, went to Firmino - but Willian deserved the plaudits for beating his man before sending an inch-perfect cross to the Hoffenheim player.
Miku's goal for Venezuela six minutes from time, and the chaotic defending thereafter, reminded everyone that this was no vintage Brazil, but merely a team learning to stand on their own two feet.
And it doesn't look like a bad start at all.
BY THE NUMBERS
Brazil v Venezuela is the only game of this Copa America with more than 1,000 passes attempted (1,002).
Brazil are the only team in this Copa America to have finished two games with nine different players attempting at least one shot.