BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — With Neymar sidelined because of a broken vertebra and Brazil’s forwards ineffective throughout the World Cup, it will be up to the team’s defenders and midfielders to keep Brazil in the World Cup.
Brazil is turning the focus away from its once-mighty attack ahead of Tuesday’s semifinal against Germany, 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 past 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 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 Monday, Scolari hinted that he may 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 he struggled from the beginning and has been loudly criticized by fans and 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 Friday. Fellow defender David Luiz scored the other. Luiz also had scored the team’s lone goal in the second round against Chile.
“The Brazilian national team is not only about Neymar,” Silva said. “It’s in times like this that the whole group has to show its strength.”