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Here's Why You Should Still Care About The World Cup


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Tamara Keith. And it's time now for sports. A high-stakes game for Brazil yesterday against Columbia. The home team won, sending them to the semifinal round against Germany. But now they'll have to do it without one of their best players, Neymar - like Madonna, I guess - who fractured a vertebrae in the match yesterday. Joining me now is NPR's Tom Goldman who is in Brazil. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi Tamara. How are you?

KEITH: I'm good. So I guess we now officially have a player who wasn't faking it.

GOLDMAN: (Laughing) Exactly. Oh, he was not. He was in tears when he went down. We, of course, thought maybe he was 'cause that's what all these guys do but no - very serious news - fractured a vertebrae as you say. And a huge loss - a huge loss to Brazil. Neymar is not just their best, most creative player on offense, but at the tender age of 22, he's really become the spiritual center of this team. It was Neymar who the team trotted out at a press conference this week to basically calm the roiling waters after Brazil's shaky win over Chile in the round of 16. There was high anxiety nationwide. The pressure of winning the cup on home soil seemed to be getting to everyone - the players, the fans. But then Neymar came out and said, basically, hey, we're all good. I'm not afraid, nor are my teammates afraid. We're ready to win this thing. Then they go out. They have their best game of the tournament against Colombia yesterday. There was widespread celebration afterwards, but that, of course, quickly stopped after the sad news got out that Neymar was done.

KEITH: And what does that mean for their chances of winning the World Cup on their home turf?

GOLDMAN: You know, certainly, there are those saying that it dooms Brazil - that they can't replace Neymar's creativity on offense, which they can't - and the fact that he was a magnet for opposing defenses, which freed of his teammates more. And you add to this another disadvantage for Brazil against Germany - is that they won't have defender Thiago Silva for that semifinal game because Silva has accumulated too many yellow cards and has to sit that one out. But - a big but - if Brazil can find a way - and, Tamara, Germany hardly looked like a world leader yesterday in a very dull win over France - if Brazil could beat Germany and then win the final, it would easily be the greatest Brazilian World Cup victory of all. And Brazilian football history is steeped in greatness already. It would send this country into orbit.

KEITH: Now with the loss of Colombia, we say goodbye to another player who was called the tournament's breakout star, James Rodriguez. That is not James, though spelled James. Is at right, Tom?

GOLDMAN: Exactly right. He is a sublime talent - another 22-year-old. He scored his sixth goal of the tournament yesterday, making him the second youngest player, after a certain guy named Pele, to score six in a single World Cup. But that whole name thing you mentioned has caused some upset. There are some fuddy duddies who scoffed at James and declared they're sticking with anglicized version of James. You know, it's just another cultural insensitivity that happens when the world gets together for an event like this. But, Tamara, not to add to the discord, but Rodriguez's parents apparently named him after James Bond. So for consistency sake, at least at the 2018 World Cup, where he's going to be a star, whenever we refer to 007, it'll be Bond, James Bond.

KEITH: James Bond - now, Americans have had a few days to cool off and look back at team USA's overall performance in Brazil. We made it out of the grupo de muerte - the group of death, but we only won one game. What do we take away from this?

GOLDMAN: One of the takeaways is the often razor thin margin between success and failure. Several U.S. players talked about that after the Belgian loss. Had American Chris Wondolowski, a super reliable goal scorer in major league soccer, put the ball in a wide-open net in stoppage time, we would not be talk about takeaways for the U.S. We'd be talking about today's U.S. quarterfinal match-up against Argentina. But, of course, Wondo didn't score and here we are. You know, right after the Belgian lost, the U.S. press was largely positive about the American performance in Brazil. But as the week's gone on, there's been more criticism emerging that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was too conservative in the formations he set for U.S. games - that he didn't play his younger, more dynamic and possibly fearless players more - guys like DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green, John Brooks. Klinsmann has a long-term contract, though. There will be a lot of scrutiny over the next four years to see if the U.S. takes the steps that it needs to to play more attacking soccer and to develop the kind of players who don't just have grit and heart, but who strike fear in opponents' hearts.

KEITH: NPR's Tom Goldman, you strike fear in my heart. Thank you very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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