Without Neymar, Brazil's World Cup hopes rest on Oscar

The Selecao's most dangerous attacking player will miss the rest of the tournament, which means that Oscar's going to have to step up his game.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

By now the reality has sunk in for the Selecao. They face Germany in a World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, and they'll do so without captain Thiago Silva or the talismanic Neymar, lost to suspension and calamitous injury respectively. While one might argue that, in a pure footballing sense, it's the former who'll be missed more, the fact remains that the absence of Neymar, possessed with the kind of glamour that his teammates simply cannot match, is the surer blow to the team's psyche.

Can Brazil win this World Cup without their brightest star? The answer to that will depend on the one player left in the forward line with genuine world-class creative talent: Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior.

Oscar, 22, has found fame in Europe as part of a new breed of No. 10s. Blessed with the vision of the more traditional creative players but with the tactical discipline of deeper-lying midfielders, Oscar serves as a defensively inclined playmaker, finding the seams in opposing defences without compromising his own team's shape. On his full debut for Chelsea, he showed off both sides of his game, marking Andrea Pirlo virtually out of existence while scoring twice against Juventus.

But while Oscar's showed flashes of his undoubtedly enormous ability, he's never quite managed to grab the limelight in the same fashion as some of his colleagues. In a sense, this is because he plays such a quiet, straightforward game. He's not a tricky, pacey dribbler. He's not quite so inclined towards audacity as Neymar for Brazil or Eden Hazard at club level. Instead, he plays smart, effective passes and works hard on defence, which isn't exactly the ticket towards international recognition.

But that's only part of the story. Oscar's perceived under-performances for both Chelsea and Brazil aren't just because he doesn't play with the same vim and vigor as, say, Neymar. Oscar's single good match of the tournament -- arguably his single good match of 2014 -- came in the opener against Croatia. He did everything, winning the ball, keeping possession, finding the weak links in Croatia's armour and guiding Brazil's attacks with penetrating vision. Since, he's been a passenger.

Oscar has a curious habit of turning it on when his team needs him but fading when another star is the focal point of the attack. His defensive contributions are vital for a side that plays a high pressing game, so it's not as though he becomes entirely useless when he's not assisting and scoring, but he's shown that he has the ability to dominate matches when asked to.

He'll certainly be asked to with Neymar out of the rest of the tournament, but while that's a somewhat optimistic note there's another school of thought on Oscar's slump that has nothing to do with his teammates hogging the limelight: he's playing too much football. For two years, Oscar has been playing more or less non-stop. He's an ever-present for Chelsea, who have one of the busiest schedules in club football, and when he's not with the Blues he's on international duty for Brazil. The only time he's had a break in the past 24 months was when he's been injured. Small wonder, then, that his performances are dropping off.

Oscar has a curious habit of turning it on when his team needs him but fading when another star is the focal point of the attack.

Brazil will be hoping fatigue doesn't have anything to do with it, because right now they need Oscar to carry the team. With Neymar out, Fred ineffective and Hulk huffing and puffing with little to show for it, everything comes down to the spindly, versatile 22-year-old.

Instead of being pushed wide, instead of dropping back to support buildup play, Brazil need Oscar to stay high up the pitch and conduct attacks. They don't have anyone else realistically capable of unlocking opposition defences, and they don't have any other attacker with the talent that warrants accommodating as the focal point of the team. In the semifinals and beyond, Oscar may well be the key to Brazilian triumph.

But he'll have to come of out his shell to do it. If we get Boring Oscar, the man content to do some heavy lifting defensive but avoiding the high risk, high reward plays, Brazil will struggle to get going on the attack and will probably have to resort to set pieces to score goals. Exciting Oscar? There are few teams in the world with much chance of stopping him.

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