BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – Brazil’s World Cup stars made a touching tribute to their injured talisman Neymar in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s semifinal against Germany.
As they disembarked the team bus and headed to the locker room at Estadio Mineirao, almost every member of the squad wore white caps with the slogan “#ForcaNeymar” emblazoned on the peak.
The phrase translates as “Be strong Neymar” and has been chanted by Brazil fans at World Cup games involving other teams ever since the 22-year-old suffered a cracked vertebrae in a collision with Columbia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga in their quarterfinal match last Friday.
The gesture was another sign of just how much the Barcelona forward means to this country and this team.
“Neymar has left us and has left a lot of himself with us,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said during his pre-match press conference. “He's taken a lot of us with him. We've accepted he won't be with us anymore.
“After we accepted that, the way he spoke to the players made the squad understand that he had done his share. Now it's up to us to do our share. This match might take us to the final. This match we'll be playing not just for ourselves but for our country, for everything we've ever dreamed of, but also for Neymar and everything he's done for us.”
Captain Thiago Silva, suspended for this game, wore his cap backwards, and patted it gently as he left the bus. Dani Alves drew his finger across the peak to highlight the message as he passed by the waiting television cameras. Marcelo perched his hat on top of his bountiful head of hair.
And while the starting lineups were being announced, fill-in captain David Luiz held up Neymar's No. 10 jersey to pay one last tribute to the injured star before gametime.
Brazil looked ready all the way around, inspired by the misfortune suffered by their friend and teammate.
Meanwhile, Neymar posted the following message (in Portuguese) to Facebook on Tuesday morning:
"I have no words to thank everyone for the loving messages of support I received since Friday... I wish I spoke more than one language to thank everyone around the world. I have been checking – or at least trying to – everything that has been posted... messages that surely helped me to get through the last few days. Today I am going to watch Brazil vs Germany as an outsider... be part of the 200 million people cheering and I know how important it is for the team to feel this support in the field! So I want to thank everyone who sent positive messages to me and wanted to ask you all to support our team together until the end because I really, really want to be with you (team and supporters) next Sunday, playing in the field... at Maracanã. God is faithful!"