RIO DE JANEIRO — A somber mood spread over Brazil on Saturday as football fans came to grips with the loss of Neymar, the superstar striker who was knocked out of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra.
Brazil's top newspapers featured front-page spreads of Neymar on the turf after he took a knee to the back during the 2-1 quarterfinal win over Colombia, crying out in pain. The host nation's hopes for a sixth World Cup title had rested mostly on the shoulders of the 22-year-old forward.
The cover of top sports newspaper Lance stated simply: "Play For Him."
Lance's online version included headlines the "The sixth title will be for him!" and "The Brazilian team is going to bleed for Neymar."
Brazil's biggest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, headlined its special World Cup section: "Without him, can it be?"
The nation has faced a similar situation before.
In the 1962 World Cup held in Chile, Brazil lost Pele to injury after its second match, but went on to win its second title.
Yet even Amarildo, the then 22-year-old striker who filled in for Pele, is pessimistic about Brazil's chances following Neymar's departure.
"At that time, we had Pele, who was unique, whom everyone thought was irreplaceable," Amarildo told ESPN Brasil radio. "Then, however, Brazil had a barn full of aces, we could have fielded 10 different teams, all equal to the other."
Amarildo added that the only player who could possibly replace Neymar wasn't even chosen for the World Cup squad.
"We don't have another player like Neymar. We could of if they had called up Robinho," he said. "He has the same style as Neymar and, if he could play, the team wouldn't have to change its style at all."
Still, hopes weren't completely stamped out.
Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil's most influential sports commentators, wrote in Folha de S. Paulo in a column titled "Impossible?" that, yes, Brazil faces an immense challenge against the powerful Germany team in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Neymar is out and captain Thiago Silva is suspended, after picking up two yellow cards.
"The Germans are not only the favorites, they're a sure thing," Kfouri wrote. "And therein lies the danger — for them.
"Free of the shame of possibly not making it to the semifinals, the Brazilian side is now the underdog confronting mission impossible. The fans heading to Mineirao this Tuesday will be there with the core feeling of 'I Believe' — and they'll be hoping for a miracle."
That sliver of optimism was felt among some fans on the street, too.
Brazil is infamous for grinding bureaucracy that makes the simplest of tasks seemingly impossible — which many believe has made the Brazilian people more creative, more resilient and has given rise to an entire philosophy known in Portuguese as "jeitinho"— or the Brazilian Way.
Simply put, it's the ability to resolve a tough situation using imagination, connections, subterfuge or sheer will and skill.
"Our 'jeitinho' should help Brazil overcome Neymar's absence," said Leandro Santos, a 30-year-old restaurant manager in Sao Paulo. "Brazilians always find unexpected ways to deal with problems and setbacks — and I think that's what this team will do."
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
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