David Luiz is the new face of Brazil
With Neymar out, skipper Luiz carries the hopes of a nation
BRAZIL v GERMANY
(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)
David Luiz's father leans towards the camera and recalls one of his favourite tales about his boy.
After a successful season at Benfica, the latest son from the Sao Paulo football factory was asked to switch nationalities and play for Portugal.
David Luiz reminded the Portuguese politicians of his heritage:The blood in my veins runs yellow and green.Not surprisingly, the uplifting TV ad is one of the most popular here in Brazil, crammed with stylish tracking shots through crumbling favela alleyways and slow-motion images of Luiz's father admiring his son's childhood trophies, shirts and memorabilia.
But the 27-year-old defender is conspicuous by his absence. He moves from magical to mythical; the omnipresent carrier of a country's hopes. He is everywhere and nowhere; a messianic presence whose blood runs yellow and green.
Now that Neymar has left the building, the king becomes Luiz. And the crown sits easily upon the afro. A devout Christian, he believes his destiny is to beat Germany tomorrow morning (Singapore time). He is guided towards a higher goal. Even his stupendous free-kick was a genetic gift from above. His freakish legs were born this way.
Those who mock the maverick or ridicule his unshakeable belief in his preordained path still struggle to grasp the spiritual streak that runs through Brazilian football.
Tears after those knockout matches were not a sign of weakness, but overwhelming relief at serving the Selecao; of men doing their duty to something beyond the comprehension of non-Brazilians.
Luiz was born to play. He had no choice. His father insists he kicked his mother endlessly in the womb. That was his predetermined role. Playing for Brazil isn't a career, it's a calling. Many are called, but Luiz was chosen.
So he smiles. He laughs. He plays to the crowd and mugs for the cameras. He pulls his tongue out for selfies and adopts the faux-rock star, two-fingered salute. He hugs shy fans and kisses babies. He is the favoured figurehead; a statesman for the Selecao. He presides over the dreams of 200 million Brazilians. Right now, he holds more power than the Brazilian President.
Like this tournament generally, he undermines the inflated opinion of the self-important, egotistical English Premier League. His inspirational influence here highlights English football's insularity.
Brazilians do not see a clown, a defensive liability or a frizzy-haired buffoon who justifies Gary Neville's increasingly naive comments of an uncoordinated PlayStation footballer. There have been a number of footballers who fitted that description at this World Cup. They mostly had a Three Lions crest slapped to their chest and worked under Neville.
Brazilians see a footballer who believes in joga bonito. He still favours the football of the favela. Luiz moves and sways and strikes to an internal samba beat. The native rhythms run through him.
They forgive the occasional defensive lapses - and there haven't been any at the World Cup. He has been an impenetrable rock at the back alongside Thiago Silva.
The pedantic Premier League fussed over his forward forays. Jose Mourinho raged against the non-machine. Luiz was always out of place.
Ironically, he was. His unique, impudent gifts of improvisation worried myopic EPL followers. Luiz is both a defender and a disciple of joga bonito. English football just cannot reconcile the two. Perhaps his brief relationship with the Premier League was always likely to end in divorce.
But his bond with the people is unbreakable. With Silva suspended, Luiz will skipper the side against Germany. The added responsibility rests comfortably with the charismatic leader. When giants diminished before him in the penalty shootout against Chile, he grew in stature, utterly convinced of his final destination.
The opening spotkick was the most poisoned of chalices. Silva and Jo shrivelled in the shadows. They turned their back on the ball. So Luiz stepped into the light.
Against Germany, he is likely to be partnered by Bayern Munich's Dante, who will have the inside track on Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze, but Luiz's performance is critical.
He replaces two men in the semi-final. He takes the armband from Silva and the torch from Neymar. The flame still burns with the frizzy-haired defender. He is no figure of fun here, but a shining beacon for joga bonito. Brazilians recognise the difference.
If there are tears at the final whistle, they will represent the disappointment of a proud patriot who was convinced of his World Cup destiny. They will not be the tears of a clown.
4 WAYS TO STOP GERMANY
1 Get really ugly
Luiz Felipe Scolari is the dark pragmatist cunningly disguised in Brazilian colours.
His victorious side in 2002 were more methodical than magical and he adopted similar methods against Colombia.
The Brazilians will be expected to get the boot in. Brazil's performance against Colombia will look oh so pretty after the semi-final. Winning ugly is the only way.
2 Favour the 4-3-3
Scolari now has the excuse he was probably looking for. Without Neymar, he can add another body near the centre circle.
Joachim Loew's 4-3-3 formation fused Thomas Mueller's ingenuity with Toni Kroos' boundless energy. The front three operate freely, but the back seven displays the obdurate, controlled qualities of successful German teams of the past.
Germany will go with the same formation and philosophy against Brazil. If Scolari opts for Willian in Neymar's place and sticks with the 4-2-3-1, they are unlikely to beat Philipp Lahm's defence. The Germans will blow them away.
3 Stick with the enforcers
Scolari has a gaping hole at both the front and the back so his greatest hope will be to plug the centre.
Fernandinho and Paulinho were outstanding against the Colombians, going toe to toe and matching the South Americans tackle for tackle. Luis Gustavo can return and join the midfield melee.
Bastian Schweinsteiger no longer intimidates in quite the same attacking fashion he did in previous World Cups, but his influence against the French should not be understated. Alongside Sami Khedira, he neutralised the threat of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi.
Two is company, but three in midfield give the Selecao half a chance.
4 Control the crowd
Neymar will watch the semi-final from his home. Without him, David Luiz and company must pick up the pompoms and go to work. Every free-kick, set-piece, throw-in, drinks break and stoppage in play must be a moment to make a move on the crowd.
Home advantage will never be this relevant, necessary or spiritual at a World Cup again. The Germans do not whither in adversity and will strive to kick down the wall of noise at the earliest opportunity. .
VOODOO PRIEST TO CURSE GERMANY
Germany will have to contend with black magic as well Brazil's Selecao in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) World Cup semi-final as a voodoo priest plans to curse die Mannschaft.
Brazil will be without injured superstar Neymar in Belo Horizonte, but black magic enthusiast Helio Sillman from Rio de Janeiro says his curse will hinder Joachim Loew's team in the semi-final.
"I'll take their top player and bind his legs so he can't run on the pitch," said Sillman, referring to the voodoo doll of an undisclosed German player that will be cursed in a ceremony before the game.
In his shop "World of Orixas" in the northern neighbourhood of Madureira, Sillman carries out a ritual before each Selecao game.
Using a small football pitch-shaped box as his alter, he puts inside lit candles in the colours of the opposing team and the voodoo doll of their most important player.
Sillman's curse on James Rodriguez did not stop the Colombian star from scoring in his team's 2-1 loss to Brazil in last Friday's quarter-finals.
And he was powerless to prevent Selecao star Neymar from suffering a fractured vertebra against the Colombians that has ruled him out of the World Cup.
But Sillman points to Brazil's results against Cameroon, Chile, Croatia and Mexico as testimony to the influence of his magic.
Voodoo dolls representing a player from each of the Selecao's opponents sit in a bowl.
"Those are the four teams that Brazil have overcome," he said.
Germany's Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels have been warned. - AFP.