An impossible task is presented for a trio of players on Tuesday night as one will be charged with replacing the mercurial Neymar Jr.; the man who carried the hopes of a nation on his back before it was unceremoniously broken by Juan Zuniga on the quarter-final battlefield against Colombia. Now it will be up to either Willian, Bernard or Ramires to fill the massive void left by A Selecao’s shining star.
Willian would be many people’s pick for the role on the right side of Brazil’s attacking midfield trio. A role he has played with aplomb for Chelsea over the course of the Premier League season, he is also well used to playing in the centre of attacking midfield.
The fact that he will line up beside a player who he is very familiar with in Oscar, only makes the case for Willian’s inclusion stronger. Picking the Chelsea attacker alongside his counterpart will give Scolari the added option of interchanging the two players and adding an extra dynamic to Brazil’s attack.
While none of these players are prolific in front of goal, Willian’s four league goals eclipse the season totals of both Bernard and Ramires. Add to this his tireless work rate, which will be important in trying to win the ball back in the final two-thirds of the pitch and Willian seems the obvious choice for tonight’s momentous semi-final.
Bernard is an outside choice for a coveted starting spot in Brazil’s line-up. Of course, replacing Neymar is more a poisoned chalice than anything else and throwing in a relatively untested 21-year old would be a bold move by Big Phil. However, the €25m paid by Shakhtar Donetsk for the diminutive winger’s services last season are testament to his talent.
In terms of style, he is much more similar to the incomparable Neymar than either of his rivals for the position. Despite this, he has much less big-match experience than the Chelsea duo and the standard of the Ukrainian League pales in comparison to the notoriously competitive Premier League.
Taking into account that Scolari will probably look for his team to sit back and soak up German pressure for a lot of tonight’s tie, Bernard looks likely to miss out to his more industrious teammates.
In terms of minutes played for the home nation in this World Cup, Ramires is well ahead of his two positional rivals. Position is the key word for Phil Scolari as he looks to replace his star forward. Ramires’ best position is in the centre of midfield where he has made numerous appearances for his club.
He has been used very sparingly by José Mourinho in an attacking midfield role and it is clear to see why. Ramires’ three goals this season all came while plying his trade in a central midfield role and he seems unsuited to playing further up the pitch. In fairness to Scolari, he has probably realised this already after hauling the energetic Chelsea man off at half-time against Mexico in the group stage.
The aforementioned Bernard was the substitute in this instance. While there is no doubt about Ramires’ ability to run the length and breadth of the pitch for his team’s cause, he is much less suited to creating chances and unlocking defences than Willian or Bernard.
As this selection comes down to trying to fill Neymar’s boots, it seems Ramires would be an odd choice from the Brazilian manager. However, he has made a few odd choices in his time, not least leaving the enthralling prospect of Lucas Moura out of a 23-man squad that is now crying out for his talents.
It is undoubtedly a tough choice for Scolari and an even tougher task for the player entrusted with taking on Neymar’s role in the side. A whole nation will be holding its breath for at least 90-minutes tonight and a blinding spotlight will be shining on the man taking the field in place of Brazil’s golden boy.
In a match that is expected to be a tight affair and will probably require a moment of real magic to light it up, who will be tasked with providing in Neymar’s absence? It would be surprising not to see Willian given the chance to prove his worth, a player who is much more balanced in terms of attacking and defending than either Bernard or Ramires. However, there is certainly time for a few more surprises at this summer’s World Cup.
Colm Hayes, Pundit Arena.