DOHA – With Neymar out for at least another match at the World Cup, Brazil coach Tite must now start thinking about a replacement — and this time he has plenty of options.
Brazil is not as Neymar-dependent as it used to be, and Tite could go several different ways to replace the Paris Saint-Germain forward for Monday’s Group G match against Switzerland.
Neymar hurt his right ankle in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia on Thursday. He has ligament damage and team doctors haven't given a timetable for his recovery — or said if he will be able to recover at all.
Tite brought nine forwards to the World Cup, and could also add a midfielder as Neymar’s replacement if wanted.
“We are talking about one of the best players in the world. It's hard to find someone else on his level,” Brazil midfielder Casemiro said Saturday. “But we have many quality players in the squad who can do a good job replacing him.”
The most straightforward option would be to use Casemiro's Real Madrid teammate Rodrygo in Neymar’s position, keeping Raphinha, Vinícius Júnior and Richarlison in attack. Rodrygo plays more as an attacker at Madrid, but he has trained in Neymar’s “No. 10” playmaking position while with Brazil in Qatar.
Another alternative would be to put an extra midfielder in Neymar’s position — Manchester United’s Fred or Newcastle’s Bruno Guimarães, for example — freeing up attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá, who played closer to defensive midfielder Casemiro against Serbia.
Another attacking midfielder available to Tite is Everton Ribeiro, while the other forwards in the squad are Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Gabriel Martinelli and Pedro.
Neymar attracted most of the attention from the tough Serbian defense, which kept roughing him up from the start. He was fouled nine times during the game, the most by any player at the World Cup in the first round of matches in the group stage.
Casemiro defended Neymar from the attacks he received on social media from some Brazilian fans who celebrated his injury. Raphinha had already done the same with a controversial repost of text that said Neymar's biggest mistake was to be born Brazilian, and that the country didn't deserve his talent.
“It's a pity, but there are bad people who wish the worse for others,” Casemiro said. “Neymar has a great heart. He doesn't deserve this.”
Neymar is Brazil’s second-best all-time scorer with 75 goals, two behind Pelé’s record with the national team. The last time he was out at a World Cup — because of a back injury sustained in the quarterfinals against Colombia in 2014 — Brazil went on to get embarrassed by Germany 7-1 in the semifinals.
Tite won’t be able to count on right back Danilo, who also sprained his ankle against Serbia. Danilo's replacement will likely be veteran Daniel Alves, although Tite could also use central defender Éder Militão in the position.
Danilo and Neymar had physiotherapy treatment Saturday while the rest of the players trained. Antony wasn't feeling well and also didn't practice.
Brazil, seeking its first World Cup title in two decades, faces Cameroon in its last group match. It can reach the round of 16 in advance with a win on Monday if Cameroon doesn't defeat Serbia in the other group match.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni