Even as Brazil's win over Colombia was sinking in, the crowd at Fortaleza was chanting 'Neymar, Neymar' as their star departed teary eyed on a stretcher. Things got worse when what initially seemed like an injury caused by a hard challenge turned out to be a broken vertebra that ended the No 10's tournament.
As news broke about Neymar's unavailability for the next 45 days, it seemed that news of Brazil reaching the semifinal was playing second fiddle to the hosts losing Neymar.
The obvious followed: A message from all the Brazilian players for Neymar; a message from Neymar himself about how his dream of being a world champions has not ended; images - moving and still - of Neymar being airlifted from the training base to a hospital; and the president calling him 'a great warrior'. In the quarterfinal between Netherlands and Costa Rica that followed, hoardings of 'for Neymar' dominated the stands.
On Tuesday, it won't be the Brazil that Brazil wanted to play in the semifinals. Instead, it will be a patchwork XI that takes the field against the mighty Germans with no indication of where their goals will come from. Willian or Bernard will likely replace place Neymar while Dante will replace suspended Brazil captain Thiago Silva.
On paper then, Germany couldn't have asked for a weaker Brazil. Not only is morale down but the hosts have lost the only player who epitomises their penchant for flair.
But there are things that cannot be captured on team sheets. After beating Colombia, Scolari said: "It was a big shock. The image of Neymar being carried off a stretcher towards the plane, the difficulties, the tears. He will be with us if he can, on the bench or in the stands. We have already asked him to do this."
If Neymar does make it to the stands, one can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like. The national anthem will be sung louder than ever, charging an emotionally drained squad on the pitch. The player wearing the armband will most probably be David Luiz, who is a passionate, religious, hyper-active and unpredictable defender who loves going forward. There will be the added factor within the team to show the world that they're not just about Neymar. References have been drawn to the 1962 World Cup when Pele was injured during the tournament, only for them to win the World Cup. The creative freedom that was granted to Neymar will be divided among the whole forward line — Hulk and Oscar being the players expected to rise to the occasion.
Germany may have the better squad, the stars, the backing of the pundits and of the purists. They may have form and tactical precision on their side. But sometimes, the best teams can get overwhelmed by the sheer tenacity of their opponents and the momentum generated by a nation united behind one cause and pushing their team over the highest hurdles.
Sport is not just defined by levels of athleticism and talent — sport is will, heart, determination and togetherness. Brazil will channel that spirit and hope it carries them all the way to a sixth World Cup.
Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.
Updated Date: Jul 08, 2014 20:36:33 IST