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Soccer-Neymar's absence angers, motivates Brazil ahead of semi

Reuters

By Andrew Cawthorne

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, July 7 (Reuters) - Brazil remain bitter about the tackle that ended their marquee striker Neymar's World Cup but hope his absence will inspire the rest of the team in Tuesday's semi-final against Germany.

Neymar broke a vertebra in Brazil's 2-1 quarter-final victory against Colombia after defender Juan Camilo Zuniga went in with a raised knee during a hard-fought game.

The Colombian has apologised and said it was not intentional, but many Brazilians remain furious of being deprived of their best player at such a crucial stage in their quest to win a sixth world title.

"In my opinion, it was a cowardly tackle. I'm a defender and you don't do that," said Brazil captain Thiago Silva, who also misses the semi in Belo Horizonte due to a one-game suspension.

"There's no way you put a knee behind a player to get a ball in front, unless you want to cause a certain situation."

Soccer's world governing body FIFA ruled on Monday that no retrospective action would be taken against Zuniga because the referee had seen the incident. A foul, but no card, was given.

Speaking at a news conference in the Mineirao stadium where they will play Germany at 5 p.m. local time (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, Silva and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said Neymar's absence had only strengthened the rest of the group's resolve.

"Neymar has already done what he has to do, now the other 22 players in the squad have to go out and do it, especially for him," Silva said of his team mate, who was far-and-away Brazil's best performer with four goals and a constant menace.

NEYMAR'S "HAPPINESS" MISSED

Scolari said the squad had absorbed the disappointment of Neymar's absence and knew that without the forward there was more responsibility on all their shoulders.

"The team will miss the way he plays, the happiness. I'm sure that tomorrow (Tuesday) they will play for Neymar, but also for themselves and, above all, for the goal of the whole group - to qualify for the final," he said.

"He has done his share, now it's up to us, myself, Thiago, the others and all the Brazilian people. This is the match where we are playing for everything we dreamed of, for each and every one of us, and for Neymar," he said.

Neymar has netted 35 times in 54 games for Brazil, more than anyone else in the squad, and Scolari had selected him for every one of the 27 matches he has coached since returning to manage Brazil for a second time in 2012.

Remarkably for two nations with eight World Cup titles between them, Brazil and Germany have only played each other once previously in the tournament when the Brazilians won the 2002 World Cup final 2-0 wih a Ronaldo double.

Brazil's players have a far more emotional, even mystic, approach to the World Cup than most teams, and Silva said his and Neymar's absences for Tuesday's cross-continental showdown probably had a higher purpose.

"I think that things are happening to make the group more united, the fact that I won't be there, Neymar won't be there," he said. "I think that strengthens the group greatly. I'm really very much at ease. I'm sure that my mission is not over."

If Brazil win, Thiago Silva will be eligible to lead them in the final. Central defender David Luiz is set to replace him as captain for the semi-final. (Editing by Ken Ferris)

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