Brazil should have been celebrating their progression into the World Cup semifinals after beating Colombia last week, but instead they were in mourning for the dreams of their wonderkid Neymar. The tournament's poster boy had been in immense form, and had virtually carried the Seleção through the groups stages by sheer individual brilliance. However, he was stretchered off with a fractured vertebrae in the quarterfinal; his tournament brought to a cruel end.
Their semifinal opponents Germany will no doubt be delighted, not least because they haven't really hit their best form at the World Cup so far. They needed extra time to beat Algeria in the round of 16, before relying on a set-piece to beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinal. Rather than being the high pressing, quick passing powerhouses we've come to expect, Joachim Löw's side have been underwhelmingly pedestrian. Even without Neymar, Brazil will be confident of a result.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari may well opt to start Ramires in the absence of Neymar, in a move that would likely see Hulk continue on the left, Oscar shifted central, and Ramires on the right. Brazil will also be without centre-back Thiago Silva, who is suspended after picking up a booking in the victory over Colombia. Dante is the favourite to slot in alongside David Luiz in Silva's place. Some rare good news for the Seleção is the return of defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo, who is expected to displace Paulinho.
Germany's only injury woe is defender Shkodran Mustafi, who was stretchered out of their round of 16 win over Algeria. In his absence Philipp Lahm will likely continue at right-back, with Per Mertesacker made to settle for a place on the bench. Veteran striker Miroslav Klose also faces a fight to keep his spot as their lone centre-forward, as coach Löw could opt to revert to playing Thomas Müller as a false nine, allowing Mario Götze to return to the left of the attacking trident.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Júlio César; Marcelo, David Luiz, Dante, Maicon; Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho; Hulk, Oscar, Ramires; Fred.
How will Brazil play without Neymar? - Neymar's importance to Brazil at this World Cup can't be overstated. When the Seleção struggled to convert their possession into goals in the group stages, it was Neymar's individual brilliance that bailed them out. When they tried to sit back and counter-attack against Chile in their first knockout tie, it was Neymar's tireless working of the channels that offered them a direct attacking option. He's not just technically brilliant but tactically versatile, capable of playing anywhere -- and working as hard as anyone -- across the attack. They'll have to find some way to make up for his absence against Germany.
Hulk vs. Philipp Lahm - In Neymar's absence Brazil's most direct attacking threat will be Hulk, who has been surprisingly good in the knockout stages so far. Scolari has deployed him on the left rather than his usual right side, which means instead of lashing hopeful shots towards goal on his stronger left foot, he does the more useful task of taking on opposition fullbacks and looking to deliver crosses into the box for Fred. He'll likely be up against Philipp Lahm in this match, in a battle that could be key.
Brazil's midfield pivot vs. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira - While Brazil's biggest threat will come from out wide, Germany's will likely be through the centre in their two marauding midfielders Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira. Both can often be found looking to break forward from deep, where they can slip in teammates or take a shot on goal. With Fernandinho having failed to convince alongside the more natural holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo, they may well find the space to do damage.
Brazil will find it much harder to score from open play without Neymar, though both of these sides have been dangerous from set-pieces at the World Cup so far. In what will almost certainly be a cagey affair, they could well offer the best goalscoring chances. 1-1 and a penalty shootout.