How will Brazil replace Hulk?
After an injury-free World Cup training camp, Brazil are likely to be forced to make changes for their meeting with Mexico thanks to suggestions that Hulk is nursing a thigh injury. A Selecao regular even before Luiz Felipe Scolari took over the team in November 2012, the Zenit Saint Petersburg man became a starter when Big Phil devised a system in which the man more used to play as a reserve would become an improvised winger.
Apart from times when injury struck, Hulk became instrumental in Scolari's plan to beef up the Selecao while not ditching their traditional attacking panache. Moved to the right to make use of his powerful left foot when he cuts infield, Hulk struggled and had to endure plenty of bullying from Brazil fans. The player showed remarkable endurance and dismissed the jeers as a consequence of the fact that he spent most of his career abroad. His resilience was repaid by a standing ovation at last year's Confederations Cup final.
Cut to 2014 and Hulk once again finds himself under scrutiny, but this time it's more interesting. In case he is really not match-fit, Hulk could be replaced by one of at least three players.
For lovers of attacking football, Bernard would be the favorite name thanks to the Shakhtar Donetsk man's love for darting runs and quick dribbling. However, Bernard still seems to be Scolari's weapon for second-half deployment rather than a starter -- just like in Brazil's World Cup opener against Croatia last week.
Besides, Hulk's presence in the side was also always about tactical commitment -- his physicality works either to push back defenders, open up space for others or to help close down opposition. In this sense, Scolari's options all come from Chelsea FC. Ramires has been tested in the side before and at a certain point towards the end of last year was on the verge of breaking into the side and recover a place that used to be his under Scolari's predecessor, Mano Menezes. Ramires also offers a veteran presence given that he's one of six players with proper World Cup experience.
Since his arrival at Chelsea, Willian has risen in the Selecao pecking order, and it looks like he has been in the group for ages. A more versatile player than Ramires, he could offer extra options up front while also helping the Selecao regroup when possession is lost.
Regardless of their decent replacement options, Hulk's absence could certainly be a problem for Scolari in moments when Brazil could do with a little more intensity to relieve pressure from the opposition, just as Croatia did last week. His absence can also be a headache because the first game showed how eager Brazil's opponents feel about exploiting gaps in the Selecao's right side.
While injuries have never been something absolutely new at the Selecao, the threat of losing players is certainly not what Big Phil would like to be dealing with now.