Luiz Felipe Scolari is convinced Brazil can beat Germany and make it through to a dream World Cup final despite Neymar’s absence.
Brazil will take on Germany at the Estadio Mineirao on Tuesday without their best player and leading scorer, who was ruled out of the World Cup after fracturing a verterbra in last week’s win over Colombia.
An incredible wave of sadness followed the news that Neymar had been ruled out.
The players shed tears and many of the 200 million football-mad Brazilians feared how their team would cope without their talisman.
But Scolari has moved on from the incident and he has challenged the rest of his squad to reach the Maracana final for their injured star.
“He has done his share. Now it’s up to us to do our share,” the Brazil coach told a press conference on the eve of the match.
“This match we’ll be playing not just for ourselves but for our country, for everything we’ve ever dreamed of, but also for Neymar and everything he’s done for us.
“Within our group, we’ve accepted that. We’ve left our sad phase behind and we’re focusing on other things.”
Scolari had asked Neymar to come to Belo Horizonte for the semi-final, but a spokesman for the Brazil football confederation said the forward would not attend the match and would instead continue his recuperation in Sao Paulo.
Scolari used several different replacements for Neymar and he also changed his formation during training, presumably to keep the gathered media and the Germans guessing about how his team would line up.
Willian and Bernard are the two leading contenders to fill Neymar’s position, but Hernanes and Jo are two others who could be drafted in.
Scolari rejected out of hand two opportunities to name his starting XI in his press conference.
Whoever he does pick, Scolari is sure they will be up to the task.
“Neymar is one of our references and one of the best players in the world, but we have another 22 players who have been hand-picked and capped because we know they are special,” the former Chelsea manager added.
“Those guys who come in are special. They can make a big difference.
“This is what we are conveying to our players. We will miss Neymar, but we have a team who can overcome the difficulties and go on into the next round.
“That’s the goal the group has had since the beginning: to qualify for the final.”
Scolari admitted he could deploy three defensive midfielders against the Germans to counter the threat of players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze.
Operating with three deep midfielders would go against Brazil’s tradition of all-out attack, but Scolari has told the nation to trust him in what he is doing.
“Playing with three defensive midfielders is an option,” he said.
“If I have two players in there, the full-backs will have less freedom but I might be able to add something that imposes a bit more damage on Germany too.”
Brazil topped their group, but they were inconsistent in their first three matches.
They then almost exited the tournament in the following round but won a nail-biting penalty shoot-out against Chile.
However, Brazil finally lived up to their billing in Fortaleza last week during a thrilling first-half display in which Colombia were blown away.
Neymar’s absence, and the step-up in opposition, mean Scolari should feel under more pressure than ever.
But if the engaging Brazil coach is nervous in any way, he was not letting it show on the night before the game.
“I sleep very well,” the jovial coach said with a grin.
“The easiest thing for me is to put my head down and sleep.
“I have a fantastic group of players and we have been watching Germany’s games too.
“We’ve had scouts at their last two matches and our scouts have instructed us how we can beat them.
“When you have a team working with you, a team of assistants, you feel more at ease making choices.
“I know the starting line-up. Tomorrow, when they walk on to the field, you will see why I made those choices.
“I want to tell the Brazilian people: we’re doing our best, and doing what we think is necessary.
“Sometimes not in a very beautiful way, but we’re moving forward. One step at a time towards the final.”
The last time Brazil won the World Cup was 12 years ago, when Scolari led the Selecao to victory over Germany.
Scolari has since tasted defeat against the three-time world champions with Portugal, so he wants to get back to winning ways in the semi-final.
“We won in 2002 with Brazil but I lost in 2008 with Portugal. And then I lost the third/fourth place play-off in 2006, also with Portugal, so I have two defeats and one victory,” he said.
“In order to tie this up I have to win tomorrow, so I hope Brazil play well, win and the memories are very good.”