Don't expect beautiful game from Scolari's Brazil
Scolari may unleash hard men Gustavo, Paulinho and Fernandinho on Germany to make up for loss of Neymar
BRAZIL v GERMANY
(Wednesday, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
When Juan Camilo Zuniga planted his studs in Neymar's back, he broke Brazil's beautiful game.
Luiz Felipe Scolari insists that the Brazilians already have one hand on the trophy, but joga bonito has slipped from their grasp.
Against Germany, they either win ugly or the dream is over.
Scolari is a master of the dark arts. For him, beauty is in the eye of the World Cup-holder. There is nothing uglier than defeat.
Attractive football has never been his forte and now Neymar's injury gives him a get-out clause; an excuse to dispense foolish notions about Brazil's addiction to samba football and get down to his business of winning.
The 65-year-old is closing ranks behind his so-called "Familia Scolari". Cynical football will prevail.
He indulged Neymar's nascent star as the impudent forward offered a guiding light, but Oscar and Willian, if the latter gets the nod to replace Neymar, are not expected to be granted similar dispensation against Germany.
As he proved in 2002 and almost again with Portugal at Euro 2004, the self-proclaimed godfather of the dressing room galvanises squads by speech-making and rabble-rousing. He inspires artisans. He is reluctant to liberate artists.
If the Brazilians skirted with brutal football against the equally physical Colombians, they will flirt outrageously with functional football against the Germans.
Those Teutonic machines of streamlined efficiency might be forgiven for thinking they were facing mirrors.
Like a hip schoolteacher, Scolari believes in freedom within specific limits. Neymar was the freakish exception. Brazil's wily pragmatist will not pander to either Oscar or Willian.
Overshadowed by Neymar's dazzling ingenuity, Oscar has flickered only sporadically. His inconsistency has irritated his coach.
Scolari tolerates creative cogs as long as they are lubricating, but Oscar is drying out in the heat.
He improved against Colombia, but he's largely been a slender sounding board for the Sao Paulo magician.
Neymar bounced ideas off Oscar and accelerated away, following his private timetable towards global domination.
For both club and country, Oscar fluffs his lines when he plays main man.
Jose Mourinho has already expressed his exasperation in the Premier League and Scolari is a quick student. He learns from the mistakes of others.
Without Neymar, Scolari's 4-2-3-1 floats like a butterfly and stings like one.
Even the inclusion of Willian struggles to address the imbalance caused by the spiky blond's absence.
The Chelsea winger's improvisation is diluted by his unpredictability. His confidence pales beside the uncontrollable ego of Neymar. Willian wilts in the Boy Wonder's presence.
Willian's World Cup prospects are neatly illustrated by another young, exciting Brazilian on the missing persons list. Philippe Coutinho didn't warrant a place in the 23-man squad, despite a stellar season leading the Reds' renaissance at Liverpool.
Scolari had already included Neymar, Oscar and Willian. He considered a fourth flaky talent too much to bear in a squad overwhelmed with reliability.
To a certain degree, the same could be said for Germany. Artists can get lost among those pumping pistons and industrious automatons. In the knockout stages, both sides have resembled production lines of cold, emotionless efficiency, suppressing spontaneity along the way.
No wonder the Brazilians dissolved into tears at the final whistle, threatening to cry a river to rival the Amazon.
Their road to Rio grows gloomier with every game. With their court jester gone, the civil servants should take centrestage.
Scolari has already hinted at the dark path the Brazilians must take without Neymar.
He favours Luiz Gustavo, who was suspended against Colombia, but stressed his admiration for Fernandinho and Paulinho's work against the Colombians.
Scolari was laying the groundwork for a significant tactical shift against Germany, hedging his bets before knowing the full extent of Neymar's injury.
He planned to match Joachim Loew's obdurate line-up with his own; a 4-3-3 stuffed with defensive midfielders to stifle Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and that irritating intellectual Philipp Lahm who conducts proceedings from any position.
Gustavo, Fernandinho and Paulinho might all face the Germans, with Oscar and Hulk pushed either side of Fred. It's not pretty, but it's practical. Scolari knows no other way.
Willian, Bernard and Hernanes have all been touted as possible replacements for Neymar, but this smacks of wishful thinking; their advocates clinging to the quaint ideal that this bewitching tournament can be won only by its equally alluring hosts.
Even the most myopic of Brazilians know better here. They spent US$14 billion ($17.5b) to bring the trophy home, not joga bonito.
Without Neymar, there is no alternative to winning ugly.
They are only two steps from heaven. The climb may be unattractive, but the view from the top will be no less beautiful.
We lost something we didn’t want to lose. But the group are already getting used to the fact that in the case of a catastrophe, there is a chance of doing something different.
— Luiz Felipe Scolari, on how Brazil will cope without Neymar
Loew: Referee must punish 'robust' Brazil
Be vigilant, ref.
The current Brazil team bear little resemblance to their artistic sides of the past and Germany coach Joachim Loew hopes the referee for Wednesday morning's (Singapore time) semi-final takes a tough stance against any attempts to disrupt the flow of the game.
The referee appointed to handle the clash is Marco Rodriguez, the Mexican referee who officiated in the match that saw Uruguay striker Luis Suarez bite Italian Giorgio Chiellini.
"I watched the Brazil-Colombia match and there were countless fouls by both teams, fouls where players just jumped into someone else's back to disrupt play," Loew (below) said.
"These weren't players going after the ball in battles for possession. They were simply trying to prevent match play."
Brazil committed 31 fouls against Colombia in a bruising quarter-final last Saturday.
Referee Carlos Velasco of Spain did not issue his first yellow card until the second half, a point when 41 fouls had been committed by both teams.
Colombia's James Rodriguez, the tournament's top scorer with six goals, was subjected to rough treatment from Brazil's midfielders, while the hosts lost Neymar for the remainder of the World Cup after he was fouled from behind and suffered a fractured vertebra.
German players have committed 57 fouls and received four yellow cards in their five matches, while Brazil have committed 96 fouls with 10 yellow cards.
"There's precious little left of that traditional Brazilian style of soccer, that artistic style of playing that we all know so well," Loew said at his team's base camp in north-eastern Brazil on the Atlantic coast.
"For sure, Brazil still have good technical players. But they're playing more robustly than any other team here and they have been trying to break up their opponent's attack that way.
"At the end of the day, it's up to the referee to come up with the correct punishment."
Loew added that even if the match becomes overly physical, Germany can take care of themselves.
"This tournament has shown that no team have been able to play with great, brilliant, attacking football because there has been so much physical destructiveness set against that," he said.
"Beautiful soccer by itself won't be enough to win here. We need to have the right dedication."
German star Bastian Schweinsteiger echoed his coach's sentiments that the referee must pay close attention to tough-tackling Brazil.
"I am all for hard, clean challenges, but there were one or two tackles which were over the limit," said Schweinsteiger after watching Brazil's win over Colombia.
"The Brazilians here aren't the magicians of old, the team have changed and so has their playing style.
"Hard challenges are definitely part of their game, it's something we have to be careful of and the referee too." - Reuters.
Brazil appeal against Silva's ban
Brazil have lodged an appeal against captain Thiago Silva's yellow card that will keep him out of Wednesday morning's (Singapore time) semi-final against Germany, Fifa said this morning.
The defender was booked in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia for blocking goalkeeper David Ospina as he was taking a kick and, as it was his second of the tournament, he was automatically suspended.
"I can confirm we have received an appeal from the Brazil federation and this is being analysed," said Fifa spokeswoman Delia Fischer.
Fifa now wipes all existing yellow cards from the slate from this stage of the tournament, meaning players booked in the semi-finals are not suspended for the final unless they are sent off. - Reuters.