July 07, 2014

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) Brazil did it once without Pele, and just about everyone in the country is waiting and hoping to do it again without Neymar.

The Brazilians advanced to the semifinals of the World Cup last week, but they lost their best player in doing so. Neymar, the national team's star attraction with the same yellow No. 10 shirt that Pele made world famous, broke a vertebra after being kneed in the back and will miss the rest of the tournament.

That means Brazil will have to do without Neymar's quick moves and sharp shooting when the team plays Germany in the semifinals on Tuesday at Mineirao Stadium. And for the final, if they make it that far.

''It will be difficult, but we can win it without Neymar,'' said Matheus Christoff, a 22-year-old chemical engineering student from Belo Horizonte. ''In 1962, we won without Pele, so we can win without Neymar.''

Pele became a global star when he was only 17, scoring two goals in the 1958 final to give Brazil its first World Cup title. Four years later in Chile, he was injured in the opening round and was forced to sit and watch as his teammates won again.

But win they did, with Garrincha stepping up to carry the load.

This time around, there is no obvious goal-scoring replacement for Neymar, who cuts his hair in a fauxhawk and has become the face of the World Cup, at least on billboards and in TV commercials all over Brazil.

Or, instead of one person stepping up to provide the goals, maybe there is more than one.

''They have another 22 players,'' said Patricia Mendes, a 35-year-old consultant in Belo Horizonte. ''If they wear the yellow jersey, they can score.''

Neymar did most of the damage himself in the first round, scoring four goals in the opening three matches to put Brazil at the top of Group A. The two strikers playing alongside him, Fred and Hulk, have combined to score only one goal, while defender David Luiz has provided the offense by scoring two in the last two matches.

A slumbering attack, now without its most important component, is going to make it hard against the Germans, who seem to have put their defense back together after a substandard performance in the second round. And the loss of Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who is suspended for the match after foolishly picking up a yellow card in the quarterfinal win over Colombia, is going to make things even tougher.

''I really don't think we can win without Neymar and Thiago Silva,'' said 23-year-old Rafael Seixas, who works at his family's convenience store in Belo Horizonte. ''They are the best players in the team, and Germany is really good.''

The thought of losing to Germany, however odious that may be for most Brazilians, is still better than considering one other possibility of this year's World Cup - an ultimate victory for Argentina on Sunday at the Maracana Stadium.

''That,'' Seixas said, ''would be the worst possible scenario for the World Cup in Brazil.''

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