Brazil Faces Germany Without 2 Of Its Best Players

Star player Neymar is out with a back injury. The team will also be without star defender Thiago Silva, who was penalized earlier in the tournament. So how does the host team go on against Germany?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Today at the World Cup, host country, Brazil, faces a moment of truth. To keep its dream alive of winning the cup on home soil, Brazil has to beat a very strong German team in a semi-final match. And it has to win without two of its best players.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Brazilian defender, Thiago Silva, is suspended for the game. And the major missing piece is the star striker, Neymar. He went down last Friday - it was painful to watch - with a broken bone in his back.

MONTAGNE: The shock of that injury has receded a bit in Brazil. Now the questions are how to win, and can history repeat itself? NPR's Tom Goldman reports from Rio de Janeiro.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Lembra sesenta y dois. Brazilian's have sought refuge in that phrase - remember '62 - since Neymar crumpled to the field last Friday.

June 2, 1962, the transcendent Pelé crumpled with a leg injury during Brazil's second game of the World Cup. Brazilian fans responded then as they have now, says soccer historian, Daniel Araujo.

DANIEL ARAUJO: (Through translator) People crying in the streets, people in desperation because they associated Pelé's injury with World Cup defeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1962 WORLD CUP BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the whistle goes for the end of the match. Brazil has beaten England 3-1, and so reached the semi-final of the World Cup.

GOLDMAN: Of course the rousing part of lembra sesenta y dois is that Brazil, without Pelé, the best player on the team, the best player in the world, would go on to win to 1962 cup. Amarildo filled in admirably for Pelé. And a bandy-legged dribbling wiz named Garrincha filled the starring role for Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1962 WORLD CUP BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Amarildo to Garrincha - it's a goal, a beautiful goal by Garrincha. Oh, that was a scorcher.

GOLDMAN: Garrincha was a complicated hero. Historian Daniel Araujo says during that World Cup, the so-called genius of the bent knees, already was having the problems with alcohol that would cut short his career.

But he came through in '62. And this is where the memory of that World Cup threatens to disconnect - if Neymar is this generation's fallen Pelé, who, I ask Araujno, is the Garrincha who will take over?

ARAUJO: (Through translator) That is a very delicate question because there is no one who gets close to Neymar. In the past, you could have a discussion about whether Garrincha reached the point of being as good as Pelé. Today, there's not a discussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO GLOBO, RADIO PROMO)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

GOLDMAN: But at Brazil's Radio Globo, which is carrying the World Cup, the feeling is all is not lost.

RAFAEL MARQUES: You have players that can solve the problem without Neymar.

GOLDMAN: Radio Globo's Rafael Marques is among those who think Willian, a hard-working, talented midfielder, should fill Neymar's position. Brazil, he says, is planning to load up in the midfield with defensive-minded players. Germany is a team that loves to attack in the middle of the field, and Brazil will try to, in Marques' words, congest the area.

And Brazilians everywhere are calling out Fred, normally a goal-scoring threat, who has scored just once in this tournament. Today's match is in Belo Horizonte - a good thing, says Marques.

MARQUES: Brazil usually have luck when plays in Belo Horizonte. And we have now, everybody will play for Neymar.

GOLDMAN: Everybody play for Neymar. As slogans go - right up there with remember '62. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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