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Brazil mull Neymar conundrum as consistent Germany loom

By Karolos Grohmann

BELO HORIZONTE Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil must overcome the massive blow dealt by the injury to marquee forward Neymar if they are to beat frighteningly consistent Germany on Tuesday and book a World Cup final spot on home soil for a second time.

Brazil, chasing a sixth world title, are still reeling from Neymar's injury in their quarter-final win over Colombia, and the entire nation is holding its breath and hoping the team's chances have not been irreparably damaged.

Neymar, who scored four goals in the tournament, fractured a vertebra late in the game and will be out for the rest of the tournament but for Brazil there is no alternative but to get to the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.

Any other result would be a national catastrophe for the country of 200 million football-mad fans, similar to the 1950 final defeat by Uruguay, also in Brazil.

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be forced to reshuffle his team in two positions with captain Thiago Silva suspended for the game against opponents who have made a record fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final.

"We'll miss Neymar," team mate Oscar said. "Whoever comes in in his place has to play as part of the team and beat Germany. "The best thing we do is play as a team and I just hope that whoever comes in plays well," the attacking midfielder said.

To play as well as Neymar is probably expecting too much of Willian, likely to be his understudy at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

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

But if anyone knows how to beat the Germans it is Scolari who led Brazil to their most recent world title in 2002 with a 2-0 victory over Germany in the final in what is, surprisingly, the teams' only previous World Cup meeting.

KILLER PUNCH

The European heavyweights' consistency since then is nothing short of spectacular, coming back as title contenders every four years and making the semi-finals in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

However, what they have failed to do is lift a fourth trophy, stumbling at the penultimate hurdle each time.

Without a World Cup win since 1990 and an international title since Euro 96, the Germans are convinced they finally have a team that can deliver the killer punch.

"I can only urge you to go and reward yourselves," German football association President Wolfgang Niersbach told the players through the announcement system on board the airplane back from their 1-0 quarter-final win over France on Friday.

"Reward yourselves by doing in this last week exactly what you have been doing so far. You have it in you and we all want to return again to the Maracana in Rio. Let's stick together because then we can land the big coup."

Less exciting and less youthful than 2010 but arguably more efficient and experienced, the Germans did not need to fire on all cylinders against France, scoring an early goal and holding on to their lead with relative ease.

The backline with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels as central defenders worked like clockwork, eliminating most threats from France forward Karim Benzema, while their quick switch to attack also operated like a well-oiled German machine.

"We will now try to take that next step," coach Joachim Loew said. "The team is strong and stable. In the past five tournaments (World Cups and Euros) we reached the semis. Now it's time at this semi-final to move a step further."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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