Scolari readies for semis sans Neymar
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- Brazil manager Felipe Scolari insisted that his squad have left the shock of Neymar's tournament-ending back injury behind them, while captain Thiago Silva was more concerned with Colombia defender Juan Camilo Zuniga's foul that caused the injury to his team's star player.
Speaking at the team's pre-match press conference ahead of Tuesday's FIFA World Cup semifinal against Germany, Silva didn't hold back in his assessment of the challenge Zuniga on Neymar, which took place in Brazil's 2-1 quarterfinal victory last Friday. Zuniga kneed Neymar in the back in an attempt to win an aerial challenge, with the Brazilian suffering a fractured lumbar vertebra.
"[It was a] coward tackle," said Silva with the help of a translator about Zuniga's challenge. "I do not think it was normal. I know how to mark a player. That's not done. There's no way you can put a knee behind the player."
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Silva is suspended for Tuesday's match after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning Brazil will be missing two key players in its bid to reach a World Cup final for the first time since 2002.
"My heart will be on the field," he said. "So will the heart of Neymar."
Neymar sent a message to his fans via Twitter on Tuesday: "Thank you for the messages of #Jogapraele from all of you and all of friends on the team. Now I'm asking and all of Brazil is asking the team to #PlayforMe".
Neymar also thanked his fans for their support via Facebook.
"I can't thank all the affection and the thousands of messages of support I have received since Friday ... I wanted to be able to speak more than one language to thank everyone. Followed, or tried to follow everything that was published ... were these messages that made these last days less painful. Today I'm going to watch the Brazil game against Germany on the outside. I'm going to be one more among the 200 million fans and I know how important it is for those guys inside the field, our support our cheers!! That's why I wanted to thank everyone who sent their positive energy for me and also I wanted to ask you to support [the team] together until the last second because I want very, very much to be with everyone (fans and my teammates) next Sunday in the field ... at the Maracanã. God is faithful!!"
Scolari, not surprisingly, declined to tip his hand as to who will replace Neymar and Silva. Bernard and Willian are in the running to replace the former, while Bayern Munich defender Dante is the leading candidate to replace Silva. Scolari did say that it was time for whoever takes the field to step up.
"Obviously, in Neymar leaving us, he left a lot of himself with us," said Scolari. "We've left it behind. The way he spoke to the players made the players understand that he had done his share. Now, it's us that have to do our share."
Scolari was manager when Brazil defeated Germany in the 2002 World Cup final. But he was also twice on the losing end against Germany while managing Portugal, once in the third place game at the 2006 World Cup, and also in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal.
"They have a very good team in defense, midfield and the strikers," said Scolari. "They have a good game plan. I don't think we can say we can feel okay. Germany has a very good team and we cannot forget, this German team has been organized for six years. They have a good balance. They have good teamwork. We must respect everything Germany has to give.
"We can't respect them without also showing the way we play. We're going to do the things the way we do them. In doing that, we're going to cause them some difficulties.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.