Willian, Hulk, and Fred: What Neymar’s absence means for Brazil

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When Neymar emerged in the Brazilian national team, he was a wide attacker that served as more of an outlet than a focal point.  Over time, that outlet’s slowly developed into a playmaker, one that Brazil head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari moved to the middle of the attack before the World Cup. A text book number 10, he’s not, but by the time the team kicked off its tournament against Croatia, Neymar certainly had become the focal point of his country’s attack.

Without him, Scolari needs to re-think how his team generates chances, and while we shouldn’t expect a huge shift in formation or style, a deep attack will have be creative with its options to replace the Neymar’s impact.

Here’s what might change in Brazil’s Neymar-less world:

1. Willian will likely come into Scolari’s team – There’s also a chance Ramires, who started for Hulk in the team’s second group stage match, could move into Scolari’s starting lineup. Bernard, a slight but quick 21-year-old winger is an option, too, but given the type of player Brazil has lost, Willian’s the more likely choice.

An attacking midfielder who moved to Chelsea last summer, Willian can play anywhere across the three in Scolari’s 4-2-3-1, though he’ll likely be deployed wide. Highly skilled, intelligent in possession, and a great striker of the ball, the 25-year-old also offers a high work rate, something that could prove especially valuable if he’s played opposite Phillip Lahm. If that happens, Hulk will be allowed to move back to his preferred right side, with a centrally deployed Oscar allowing the team to more-easily shift between a three- and two-man midfield. Against possession-hogging Germany, that could prove especially valuable.

A former standout at Shakhtar Donetsk, William offers a different type of creativity to Brazil’s attack, albeit at the expense of Neymar’s goal scoring. His familiarity with club teammate Oscar will help as the 22-year-old becomes more of a focal point in the team’s attack, while his crossing could get more out of Fred in the middle. In the space in front of the defense, he’ll provide a second player able to play a final ball, putting more pressure on Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger to pick him up when he comes off the wing.

With both Willian and Oscar capable of attacking across the width of the field, Brazil can target specific weaknesses in the German defense. Scolari may not need to return Dani Alves to the team to outnumber left back Benedikt Höwedes.

Downgrading from Neymar to Willian certainly hurts, but the true impact of that swap will likely be felt elsewhere. Few nations are lucky enough to have a player like Willian in reserve.

source: AP
Brazil’s Fred holds off Colombia’s Mario Yepes during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Brazil and Colombia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

2. Fred’s role may change – Brazil’s heat maps showed something that’s confusing, if you think of Neymar as his team’s central playmaker. Often over the course of 90 minutes, his average position rivaled Fred’s, Brazil’s forward. While Scolari moving Neymar to the middle allowed his best player to play a bigger part in Brazil’s attack, it allow allowed him to push forward and play along the line when Fred dropped back to win and hold up the ball.

That dynamic changes if Willian comes in. For all his talents, he’s not someone plays along the defense. Neither is Oscar. Fred can continue to drop back to help Brazil get out of their own half, but there’s no Neymar to burst forward to fill that space.

Ideally, instead of playing as much with his back to goal, Fred would stay higher, trying to push central defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Regardless, is movement will become much more important. As Germany’s fullbacks have to deal with Hulk, fullback Marcelo, or possibly Alves, his ability to exploit the channels could be the difference between merely having Oscar and Willian’s skills and truly leveraging them. If he can’t, we may see Jô come on earlier than usual.

3. Hulk’s movement will matter more – In that same vein, Hulk’s ability to play higher and provide an option for Oscar and Willian’s creativity could be more important. Whereas with Neymar it was more important to read defenses as they reacted to Brazil’s focal point, creating options for the team’s playmakers may prove more important against Germany. Instead of waiting for Oscar and Willian to generate space, Hulk and Fred will need to read the defense and adjust. As the German’s adjust to Brazil’s two creators, Hulk could have space to exploit.

There’s also the chance Hulk can see more opportunities isolated against defenders if his team becomes less worried about maintaining space for Neymar. If Oscar and Willian team up toward the left or middle, Hulk may have room to take on Höwedes and cut onto his favored left foot. Clearing their right side for Hulk may also give Scolari reason keep Maicon at right back, knowing Alves will only be blocked fi he tries to get forward.

source: Getty Images
Hulk has failed to score in four games, but with Neymar out, his production could prove vital in the World Cup’s semifinals. (Source: Getty Images)

The undercurrent here, though, is the importance of replacing Neymar’s scoring. With four goals in five games, Neymar was responsible for 40 percent of his team’s production. Hulk, who has failed to score thus far, is one of the few players who can replicate that threat.

He needs to be put in positions to succeed. Against a team of Germany’s caliber, he may also need to deliver.

4. Will Scolari be tempted to use Paulinho – If Scolari’s looking for other way to replace Neymar’s goal scoring, restoring Paulinho to the starting XI could work. The Spurs midfielder was back in the team that faced Colombia, but only because Luiz Gustavo was suspended due to a second yellow card. With the Wolfsburg midfielder available, it’s expected he’ll partner Fernandinho in the middle.

Paulinho, however, provides more of a threat going forward, with his ability to read a defense from deep and exploit available space, particularly valuable if Oscar and Willian can play well. Whereas Gustavo is a pure destroyer and Fernandinho’s more comfortable in a deeper role, Paulinho’s main value is his ability to be that extra man in the box.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t played very well this tournament. Though his showing against Colombia was an improvement on what we saw in group stage, he still wasn’t as good as Fernandinho, who took his spot in the starting lineup before the knockout round. On performance alone, there’s almost not augment for choosing Paulinho over one of Scolari’s two other options.

But with Oscar potentially augmenting that two-man midfield, Brazil may be able to sacrifice one of Gustavo or Fernandinho. If, however, he feels Scolari thinks his team is capable of generating chances with just his attackers, Paulinho should be on the bench when the teams kick off on Tuesday.

Christian Pulisic on USMNT’s exit from World Cup: ‘We’re sorry. We wanted it so bad’

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The United States men’s national team is going to need some time to digest their run at the 2022 World Cup, which ended Saturday with a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the Round of 167

The side had an open mission to “change the way the world views American soccer.” The jury’s out on whether they proved anything they hadn’t in the past, but a place in the knockout rounds after failing to qualify for 2018 in Russia is certainly a good advertisement for the country.

[ MORE: Netherlands eliminates USA 3-1 ]

And Christian Pulisic, who had a solid tournament and was involved in all three goals the USMNT scored at the tournament, is even going so far as to apologize to fans back home.

“We’re sorry,” said Pulisic, who came back days after being hospitalized for a pelvic contusion suffered while scoring against Iran. “We wanted it so bad and I hope that we gave you some kind of excitement and showed you a little bit of what this team is about, and thank you guys.”

“I’m really proud of this team, how far we’ve come. I hope we showed people what we can do. It really is a shame. We deserved more at this tournament.”

Pulisic was sensational for large parts of the World Cup and was fouled a remarkable 11 times in 315 minutes. He had a goal and set up the markers scored by Timothy Weah and Haji Wright.

Yes, he’ll lament having a third-minute shot saved in the Netherlands contest, but there’s much to like about Pulisic and his young teammates in Qatar. That’s especially true since they’ll be one of three nations with homefield advantage when the tournament comes to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 2026.

“It hurts a lot right now,” Pulisic said on FOX after the game. “We thought we could advance and do a lot more this time around but I love these guys and we did a lot.

“It was an incredible experience, one I’ll always remember. It hurts right now but give it a couple of days and we can look back and be proud.”

When and where is the 2026 World Cup?

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The 2022 World Cup officially begins on Sunday, November 20, and runs through Sunday, December 18 in Qatar featuring 64 matches contested by 32 nations in 8 stadiums over the course of 29 days.

This year marks the very first time that the World Cup is taking place in the Middle East. Qatar, which is the smallest nation to ever host the event, has average high temperatures in June and July of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why FIFA made the decision to host the 22nd edition of the World Cup in the Fall. As always, this year’s World Cup marks four years until the next edition of the tournament, which will make history with three different nations hosting matches.  See below for location information for both the 2022 and 2026 World Cups.

RELATED: World Cup 2022 odds: Favorites, underdogs, group stage winners

2022 World Cup Venues:

The 2022 World Cup will take place in the following venues:

  • Al Bayt Stadium – 22 miles from central Doha
  • Lusail Stadium – 12 miles from central Doha
  • Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium – 12 miles from central Doha
  • Al Janoub Stadium – 14 miles from central Doha
  • Al Thumama Stadium – 8 miles from central Doha
  • Education City Stadium – 8 miles from central Doha
  • Khalifa International Stadium – 3 miles from central Doha
  • Stadium 974 – 6 miles from central Doha

Where will the 2026 World Cup take place?

The 2026 World Cup will take place in three North American countries: the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This will be the first time that the tournament is hosted by three different nations and it will be the very first time that the event will be contested in Canada. There will be a total of 16 venues used as host cities for the 2026 World Cup. The U.S. will have 11, Canada will have 2, and Mexico will have 3.

Additionally, the 2026 World Cup will debut an expanded format featuring 48 teams–as opposed to 32–split into 16 groups of 3.

RELATED: 2026 World Cup venues selected: Which cities will host in USA, Canada, Mexico?

2026 World Cup host cities

USA (11)

Atlanta – Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Boston – Gillette Stadium
Dallas – AT&T Stadium
Houston – NRG Stadium
Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium
Los Angeles – SoFi Stadium
Miami – Hard Rock Stadium
New York/New Jersey – MetLife Stadium
Philadelphia – Lincoln Financial Field
San Francisco – Levi’s Stadium
Seattle – Lumen Field

Canada (2)

Toronto – BMO Field
Vancouver – BC Place

Mexico (3)

Guadalajara – Estadio Akron
Mexico City – Estadio Azteca
Monterrey – Estadio BBVA

When is the 2026 World Cup?

The 2026 World Cup is scheduled to take place from June 8 through July 3.


2022 World Cup U.S. Group Stage Schedule:

  • U.S. vs. Wales – Monday, November 21 at 2 PM ET
  • U.S. vs. England – Friday, November 25 at 2 PM ET
  • U.S. vs Iran – Tuesday, November 29 at 2 PM ET

2022 World Cup Mexico Group Stage Schedule:

  • Mexico vs. Poland – Tuesday, November 22 at 11 AM ET
  • Mexico vs Argentina – Saturday, November 26 at 2 PM ET
  • Mexico  vs Saudi Arabia – Wednesday, November 30 at 2 PM ET

RELATED: World Cup 2022 schedule – groups, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates


How to watch the 2022 World Cup:

*All times are listed as ET

  • When: November 20, 2022 – December 18, 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5 am, 8 am, 11 am, and 2 pm
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channel in English: Fox
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock

 Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup!

RELATED: World Cup 2022 Group B: England, USA, Iran, Wales schedule, fixtures, rankings

Gregg Berhalter reacts to USA being knocked out of World Cup: ‘We made some progress’

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Gregg Berhalter has praised his young USA side and although he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ to see them knocked out of the World Cup, he believes progress has been made.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

The USA lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in their last 16 clash as Christian Pulisic missed a great chance early on and the Dutch made the Americans pay as Memphis Depay, Daley Blind and Denzel Dumfries all scored classy goals.

In the end the Dutch had a bit of extra quality and experience but the young U.S. has impressed to get to the knockout rounds and with one eye on the 2026 World Cup, a huge chunk of this starting lineup will probably start at the next World Cup too.

That’s very positive but it doesn’t mean this defeat doesn’t sting right now.

Pride and progress the key words for Berhalter

“This is a difficult one to handle,” Berhalter said. “It is such a good group of guys, it is such a close group of guys, and we came up short today but not for a lack of trying, not for a lack of effort. The guys poured everything they had into this game and unfortunately we lost it.”

They really did.

The USMNT had plenty of the ball and created chances but they just couldn’t knit all of that promise together in the final third when it mattered most. And that right there was the story of their World Cup.

There is still plenty to be proud of for Berhalter and his young side, as they exceeded expectations.

“Really proud. When you think about how this group and how they’ve come together over the last three-and-a-half years, it’s really special to see. You don’t often get a bond like that between teammates, and staff, and everyone,” Berhalter said. “I’m really proud of this group but bitterly disappointed with the result today.”

What next?

There is plenty of debate about whether or not Gregg Berhalter is the right man to lead this very talented, and very young, USA side into the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

A lot can happen between now and then but it seems the displays at this World Cup probably earned him a couple more years to see how this side develops and if they can get a couple of clinical finishers to stand up and finish off chances.

“We made some progress,” Berhalter said. “When people look at our team, they see a clear identity, they see guys that go out there and fight for each other. They see talent on the field. We made progress but on this particular night we came up short.”

When the dust settles on this defeat to the Dutch, the 2022 World Cup will be looked at positively by fans of the USA.

However, the most important thing is what happens next. If the core of this team can keep their intensity and solidity but add cutting edge in attack and stay true to their principles, they can go far in 2026.


Argentina vs Australia: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Lionel Messi and Argentina will continue their 2022 World Cup quest when they face Australia, arguably the biggest surprise of the tournament thus far, in the round of 16 on Saturday.

STREAM ARGENTINA vs AUSTRALIA LIVE

Argentina rebounded from their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia with back-to-back 2-0 victories over Mexico and Poland to finish top of Group C and reach the knockout rounds in 14 straight World Cup appearances.

Australia, on the other hand, are in the knockout stage for just the second time ever (2006 – round of 16). The Socceroos were also beaten, and battered, by defending champions France in their opener, but a pair of back-to-back 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark were enough to see them through on a dramatic final day of Group D play.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Argentina vs Australia. 


How to watch Argentina vs Australia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday (December 3)
Stadium: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Without looking ahead and past Australia, Argentina will know that their half of the bracket is shaping up rather nicely for a run to at least the semifinals, where they could potentially meet bitter rivals Brazil. Messi has been in fine form thus far in Qatar, scoring twice and assisting once more during the group stage, even if he was denied from the penalty spot by Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny in the finale. The main question regarding Lionel Scaloni’s selection revolves around Lautaro Martinez (2 starts in the group stage – 0 goals, 0 assists) and Julian Alvarez (1 start – 1 goal, 0 assists) at center forward.

Australia head into Saturday’s showdown having not conceded a goal in 199 minutes, going back to France’s fourth in the opener. The Socceroos have had success since switching to a 4-4-2 in both of their victories, keeping eight, nine and sometimes 10 men behind the ball while averaging just 36.7 percent of possession over the three games. Australia are one of four sides (Morocco, Poland and Japan being the others) to have held less than 40 percent of possession and make it through to the knockout rounds.


Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Australia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 38
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified from AFC via the intercontinental playoffs
Coach: Graham Arnold
Key players: Mathew Ryan, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie

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