Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Not by much, but Brazil’s World Cup dream remains alive. After a 1-1 draw against Chile following 120 minutes of grueling football, the hosts prevailed after a nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out. And the man to convert the winning penalty, ice cool under the glare of 170 million people? Neymar.
Whilst he saved Brazil’s bacon once again, a trend is beginning to emerge. Brazil, for all the talent they possess, are far too reliant on their No. 10. Chile are hardly made a team packed to the rafters with superstars. Alexis Sánchez is their standout performer, and, on paper at least, Brazil should have had too much for their South American neighbors.
The game took on a very different pattern. And as Chile suffocated their hosts during an impressive second half display, one observation became particularly apparent; when Neymar is missing, this Brazil side fails to click. Who takes over the reins of responsibility? Oscar, Hulk, Fred, none managed to step up to the mantle yesterday (June 28th) as the hosts sweated and toiled in the Belo Horizonte heat.
Neymar’s contribution to Brazil’s World Cup campaign has already been phenomenal. He has scored four goals, but, more than that, he has carried the burden of a nation across his slim shoulders. And he has done it with panache. But yesterday, following an excellent first half display, Neymar slipped to the periphery. In football there are eleven players in a team; Neymar could not continue to carry the baton alone.
Following a string of poor performances coach Luiz Felipe Scolari finally relegated Paulinho to the bench. Fernandinho, who excelled when coming on as a substitute against Cameroon, took his place. This was supposed to be the missing link. The piece in the puzzle that would connect midfield and attack, something that has been seriously lacking for Brazil at this tournament.
Yet he was just as static yesterday as Paulinho had been in the group stages. With Neymar suffering a not so subtle form of bullying, the Seleção’s offensive prowess vanished. Hulk huffed and puffed but his finishing is far from consistent. In desperation Scolari removed Fred for Jô, a move which brought howls of derision from the Mineirão crowd.
Three scuffed chances from the Atlético-MG forward showed you why. The worst miss was from just a few yards out, a header at a corner which he glanced high and wide. Chile may have been eliminated but they gave future opponents hope. Stop Neymar and you can stop Brazil. Until the path from midfield to attack is fixed, Brazil is stuck in one-way traffic. It is a risky ploy to win a World Cup.