Joy then despair - with Neymar out

Joy then despair - with Neymar out

Just before 7pm on Friday evening, Brazil erupted in unbridled joy. After 12 long years, Brazil were finally in the World Cup semi-finals again.

In the nation's football capital Rio de Janeiro, an estimated crowd of more than 50,000 people turned the Copacabana beach into their giant stadium, greeting each Brazilian goal in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia with dancing in the street as roads in the area closed in anticipation of a giant party.

Rio will host the July 13 World Cup final, and for many in Brazil's most populous city, the day had long been pencilled in as the date they must keep when their beloved Selecao come to town.

It was here that Uruguay broke a nation's heart in the 1950 tournament. And it is in Rio that Luiz Felipe Scolari and his men have promised to deliver a sixth title.

Yet, even as the firecrackers were still being lit and generous servings of caipirinha still being served, joy at reaching the final four quickly turned to despair.

"Neymar's out?" said Thiago Aguiar, 18, as news first broke of the seriousness of a back injury Neymar suffered during the match and possible exclusion from the semi-final against Germany on Tuesday (4am, Wednesday, Singapore time).

"It can't be. He will be back. He is our hope."

In Fortaleza, where the match was played, fans camped outside a private clinic as Neymar was being examined by doctors, as if willing him to a miraculous recovery. He had been hurt in a clash with Colombia's Juan Camilo Zuniga with just minutes remaining in the game.

But Brazil's worst fears came true when it soon emerged the star striker would not only be out of the semi-final, but also the rest of the tournament.

"Neymar had a scan, which confirmed he had fractured his third vertebra," said Brazilian Football Confederation doctor Rodrigo Lasmar.

He is not expected to need surgery but will be out for at least four weeks. And although he returned to the Brazil training camp late on Friday night, amid emotional scenes, there is no denying that his injury could have a lasting and permanent effect on Brazil's campaign.

The win over Colombia had already claimed one victim in Brazil captain Thiago Silva, whose yellow card in the match and subsequent one-match suspension ruled him out of the Germany clash.

But while having to do without their skipper for one match was an acceptable loss for a place in the last four, the absence of Brazil's talismanic forward, who has scored four of his team's 10 goals, could be a fatal blow to their hopes of winning a record-extending sixth title and their first on home soil.

Striker Fred was unable to contain his tears as he spoke to reporters after the match.

Skipper Silva appeared stunned when he was told of the news by reporters.

"Rodrigo's confirming it, is he?" said the centre-back, who had given Brazil a first-half lead against Colombia.

"It's very sad. It's sad because only we know how much that lad dreamed about this World Cup. Even so, I'm certain that we've got quality players who can fill in for him. I've got a lot of faith in Willian, who's got similar characteristics.

"We're going to win this World Cup. Not just for Neymar, but for all of us. We deserve it."

Brazil will still need to overcome Germany and then another opponent in the final to win the Cup. But at least against Colombia, they were deserving winners.

Coach Scolari made bold changes ahead of facing one of the tournament's best sides. He brought in veteran defender Maicon for an out-of-sorts Dani Alves and reinstated the much-criticised Paulinho for the suspended Luiz Gustavo.

The move paid dividends as Silva gave Brazil the lead as early as the seventh minute, scrambling home from a corner. David Luiz doubled the score with a spectacular free kick before Colombia pulled one back to make it a thrilling finale, James Rodriguez scoring his sixth goal of the tournament from the penalty spot.

Against Germany, Scolari will again have to come up with another masterstroke.

The Germans edged out France 1-0 on a hot day at Rio's Estadio do Maracana earlier on Friday.

As with Brazil's scorers, a defender also found the net, as Mats Hummels rose the highest to head home Toni Kroos' free kick in the 13th minute.

But the hope that an early goal would open the game up never materialised as energy levels on both sides were sapped in 35 deg C pitch-side conditions.

Criticised for struggling to beat the United States, Algeria and Ghana after a 4-0 demolition of Portugal, German coach Joachim Loew showed another side to his team. It was of a side who could grind out a win.

It is something Scolari will have to emulate in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

The road to Rio is coming to an end. In Scolari's words, they are now on step six of the seven steps to heaven.

But without their best goal-scorer, some say their only one with the one-goal Fred appalling in the striker's role so far, Brazil may well have to rely on divine intervention to get to the promised land.

This article was first published on July 6, 2014.
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