A Pyrrhic victory

Brazil will also miss Thiago Silva in the semi-final against Germany who was booked for a second time.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Fortaleza | Updated: June 7, 2018 10:26:36 am
Neymar was airlifted from the Brazilian team's training camp and treated at home for his fractured vertebrae. He will miss the remainder of the tournament. (Source: AP) Neymar was airlifted from the Brazilian team’s training camp and treated at home for his fractured vertebrae. He will miss the remainder of the tournament. (Source: AP)

Logic, quite like the magnets of a compass, moves counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere. Just below the equator lies Fortaleza, where a central defender had given Brazil the lead in the seventh minute.

And then, exactly an hour later, Colombia’s best striker had just curtailed an opposition attack into his territory with a sliding challenge that any defender would have been proud of.

Only, James Rodriguez — who was kicked, bruised and battered all evening — was shown a yellow card for his tackle on Hulk. Wronged, James protested, just as his captain Mario Yepes had done a minute earlier, when his equalising goal was disallowed.

But just like Yepes’s pleas, James’s too were to no avail. Spanish referee Carlos Carballo had long pulled out his vanishing spray and had begun marking the free-kick region, roughly 35 yards away from goal.

On it stood David Luiz, Brazil’s wig-haired defender. A decent distance away, David Ospina, Colombia’s goalkeeper, barked instructions as the defence built its wall.

Construction ended to the right of the ball and Ospina took his place to its left. The resistance looked sturdy and pierce-proof.

Logic and school-level geometry should tell you that unless curved around the linked bodies, the ball stood no chance of entering Ospina’s goal.

Yet, straight as an arrow, Luiz cannoned his kick past the shoulder of the right edge of the wall and into the top right — giving a flat-footed Ospina no chance. “It’s genetic,” Luiz said later. “My legs were born this way. Maybe it’s magic.”

Call it magic or whatever else you may please, but the truth remains that Brazil’s two central defenders have scored all of Selecao’s goals in the knock-outs.

Luiz had found Brazil’s only open-play goal against Chile in their Round of 16 match last week. And now, he had joined his backline partner and captain Thiago Silva on this scoresheet. It was bound to impact their already choppy and paper-thin defensive play.

Just 10 or so minutes after Luiz’s goal, Julio Cesar was alone forced to double up as both Brazil’s last and second last lines of defence. When Carlos Bacca was set free into a near vacant box by James, Cesar rushed howling out, tackling Bacca to the ground with a body checking kick.

In any other game, this would have been a straight red. But with the lenient Carballo around, Cesar got away with a yellow. And James, this World Cup’s leading goal-scorer, pulled away from his nearest competitors with his sixth goal of the edition.


That goal wasn’t enough to stop Brazil from proceeding to the semi-finals, but they only barely managed to limp across the line-literally and figuratively.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side will take on Germany without either captain Thiago Silva at the back (he picked up his second yellow of the knock-outs with a foolish challenge on Ospina) or their playmaker and top goal-scorer Neymar Jr up front.

In the 88th minute, Neymar was thumped in his spine by Colombian defender Juan Zuniga. A nation watched helplessly as he was rushed to a hospital, only to be later told that the 22-year-old had fractured a vertebra, ruling the boy with four goals so far well out of the rest of this campaign.

He wouldn’t have been so sorely missed had Brazil’s other two forwards, Hulk and Fred, provided even a fleeting promise during the World Cup so far.

But between them, in over 70 shots on target, they have scored one (Fred in Brazil’s third against the worst team in the Cup, Cameroon) and assisted none. Which of course makes coach Scolari a very nervous man.

“I will have to study everything before I can decide my next step,” he said after the match. All his studies before the match had forced Scolari to replace right-back Dani Alves, another Brazilian who had done precious little in the tournament so far, with Maicon.

And in place of a suspended sweeper Luiz Gustavo, Scolari fielded Paulinho, who hadn’t played since the game against Cameroon. Some will tell you that he barely played against Cameroon itself, despite being on the field for a considerable amount of time.

But against Colombia, he started in lively fashion, combining well with Maicon down the right flank. Maicon was clearly rusty from lack of match-play, as he chose to go for glory from the wing instead of passing to a free Neymar in the middle.

Scolari growled, loud enough for Fernandinho to not commit the same mistake when he swept the ball off James’s toes in the sixth minute.

With a zooting pass down the inside left of the field, Fernandinho sent Neymar rifling towards goal. But his kick was intercepted by Colombia’s centre-back Cristian Zapata and the ball raced past the touchline for a corner.

From the set-piece, Neymar’s inswinging kick was perfect. But Thiago Silva’s finish wasn’t — squirting in from the inside of his thigh.

That combination of Neymar and Silva eventually felled Colombia. But Colombia felled Neymar, making David Luiz Brazil’s captain, best defender and current leading goal-scorer all at the same time.

It makes no logical sense, of course. But Luiz is said to believe in magic. And for a while, the rest of Brazil will too.

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