Odd couple pulls Brazil through
FORTALEZA, Brazil -- On a day when Brazil lost star midfielder Neymar for the rest of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra, the Selecao turned to their odd couple -- defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz -- to pull them through.
The two leaders in the back scored goals either side of halftime to propel Brazil to a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Colombia. Silva latched onto Neymar's corner kick and deflected the ball home with his knee with the game less than seven minutes old. In the 69th minute, Luiz hit a scorching 34-yard free kick past Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina. It was difficult to tell what possessed more maniacal ferocity -- the shot, or his celebratory run to the near-side corner flag.
"Everyone knows I train a lot on this every day," said Luiz in the postmatch mixed zone. "Today I hit the ball in exactly the [right] point. So when I saw the ball, it moved a lot and it was difficult for the goalkeeper. I was happy with this."
Luiz then spared a thought for Neymar, who was kneed in the back in the 86th minute by Colombia defender Juan Zuniga. The Brazilian No. 10 had to be stretchered off, and afterward Brazil team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar announced that the player had suffered a fractured lumbar vertebra that will keep him out 2-3 weeks. Neymar's World Cup is over, muting much of the feel-good factor that existed at having reached the semifinals.
"I'm so happy, we're in the semifinal round of the World Cup," said Luiz. "We've dreamed about this. But I'm a little bit sad that Neymar is out of the competition. He's a great guy, great person, great player who brings great things for football. Now he's going to be out, and everyone feels a bit sad. He's like my brother."
It was a night when in addition to the goals, Silva and Luiz did their bit on the defensive end as well, cutting out numerous through balls from Colombian danger man James Rodriguez. The Colombian No. 10 finally did unlock Brazil's defense in the 78th minute, releasing substitute Carlos Bacca, who was felled by goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Rodriguez dispatched the resulting penalty to take his tournament tally to six, but for the rest of the night, Silva and Luiz -- with the help of Fernandinho, who benefitted from some lenient refereeing -- managed to help keep Brazil's net clean.
Silva and Luiz make for an odd pairing in the back, given the differences in their respective personalities. Silva cuts a commanding presence, but is very religious and soft-spoken. Luiz projects a different kind of charisma, like a big kid, often taking selfies after big wins. When Brazil entered the field for the pregame warm-up, the differences were evident again. Silva was all business while Luiz sprinted out with his arms raised, signaling a No. 1 with each index finger.
But as ESPN colleague Paulo Cobos put it, "Inside the locker room, Silva is the king."
It is Silva who negotiated the players' World Cup bonus money with the CBF, the Brazil Football Confederation, and when the team received criticism for some tension-induced emotional outbursts following the round of 16 matchup against Chile, it was Silva who faced the press. Granted, that's part of his job as captain, but he remains hugely respected by his teammates, and after Friday's match he couldn't hide his frustration at the disparaging comments the team had received from the media and some former Brazilian internationals.
"Any criticism that we received inside of our country, those people don't have respect for us," said Silva with the help of a translator. "They said I don't have character, that I shouldn't be the captain of the team. These words are bulls---. Those players were here before and they know the pressure. But they keep saying bulls---. But this [win] is for us, and the people who were behind us."
Neymar out of the World Cup
- Ex-ref blames FIFA for Neymar injury
- FIFA to investigate Neymar injury
- Referee Carballo faces criticism
- Jones: The morning after the night before
- Duarte: The World Cup's crushing loss
- World Cup Tonight: How will Brazil cope?
- Young: Brazilian media reacts
- Uersfeld: German media reaction
- Lang: Five players who must step up
- Neymar injury dampens celebration
That makes what took place in the 64th minute all the more maddening. Ospina was about to punt the ball upfield when Silva suffered a brain cramp and ran into him, which earned him a booking from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo. Given that it's Silva's second caution of the tournament, it will keep the Brazil captain out of the semifinal against Germany on Tuesday.
So now Brazil finds itself without its captain and its best player. The candidates to replace Neymar are Bernard and Willian, while Bayern Munich defender Dante seems poised to step in for Silva. In Silva's eyes, it's fitting that Dante will see the field.
"It was already written, Dante had to play this game because he already plays in Germany," said Silva with the help of an interpreter. "Motivation will be the strength of the team. I'm happy for Dante, because he will have the opportunity to show the world all the quality that he has. As for me, I will try to pass tranquility to the team."
Luiz expressed full confidence as well.
"They are great players who have prepared for this just like Thiago and myself," said Luiz as he accepted his man of the match award. "They are dreaming as we have been dreaming today, to one day play for our national squad at a World Cup. We will be missing our captain, but I think we will be well-served."
He then looked at Scolari and said, "Fortunately, God touched this man beside me. He knows how to cap good players."
Including Brazil's odd couple.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.