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Football

David Luiz: Brazil’s maverick turned leader

  • Brazil's David Luiz celebrates after scoring a goal against Colombia during the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals soccer match at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza July 4, 2014. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Frizzy locks flailing and eyes bulging, David Luiz charged toward the corner flag and karate-kicked it out the way after sending Brazil into the World Cup semifinals with a stunning free kick against Colombia.

His celebration a caricature of his playing style, Luiz rarely does things the conventional way.

The most expensive defender ever having sealed a £50 million ($85 million) move from Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain last month, he played the majority of his final season in the Premier League in midfield as Jose Mourinho didn’t trust him to defend and is his country’s second top scorer at the World Cup.

Now in the absence of injured star Neymar and suspended captain Thiago Silva, Luiz the maverick must become a leader against Germany in Belo Horizonte Tuesday.

On his 42nd cap Luiz will captain his country, a role many believe he is naturally more suited to than the subdued Silva.

Among the tears and crashing of Brazilian nerve against Chile in the last 16, Luiz was a shining light.

His first international goal had put his country in front and while others, including Silva and center-forward Jo shied away when a penalty shootout was needed to decide Brazil’s fate, Luiz stepped up to hammer home the opening spot-kick.

“I’m ready, I’m vice-captain. This group is very easy to handle because everyone is humble and fun. We act as a family, a unit,” he said when pressed on how his role will change without Neymar and Silva.

With Neymar out of the tournament, Luiz has become Brazil’s face of the World Cup. He already rivaled his poster boy teammate for commercial endorsements and his impassioned blaring of the national anthem has become legendary as a 200 million strong nation shuts down for every Brazil match.

More importantly, though, he is not the figure of fun he was often unfairly tarnished as in England. Since Luiz Felipe Scolari returned to take the Brazil job 20 months ago they have not lost a game in which Luiz has played the full 90 minutes.

Brazil will face the biggest test of that record yet, though, in the form of a German team sick of being nearly men at international tournaments.

“They are a great team with a great philosophy of how to play football,” Luiz said of Joachim Loew’s men.

“They have a lot of great players, a great coach and it will be a great game. It is a World Cup semifinal.”

The bedrock of that return to form under Scolari after a shaky period under Mano Menezes has been the partnership between Luiz and Silva conceding an average of well under a goal a game.

Their familiarity may have gone, but in Bayern Munich’s Dante, Luiz couldn’t have asked for a better replacement for Silva in knowing how to handle the likes of Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze.

Luiz will have good memories of Germany’s Bayern contingent too. In the 2012 Champions League final he spearheaded an incredible defensive display from Chelsea in the absence of captain John Terry to deny the German giants from winning European club football’s biggest prize in their own stadium.

A similarly heroic effort will be needed to prevent the Germans inflicting the same pain on Brazil.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 08, 2014, on page 15.
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Summary

Frizzy locks flailing and eyes bulging, David Luiz charged toward the corner flag and karate-kicked it out the way after sending Brazil into the World Cup semifinals with a stunning free kick against Colombia.

Among the tears and crashing of Brazilian nerve against Chile in the last 16, Luiz was a shining light.

His first international goal had put his country in front and while others, including Silva and center-forward Jo shied away when a penalty shootout was needed to decide Brazil's fate, Luiz stepped up to hammer home the opening spot-kick.

With Neymar out of the tournament, Luiz has become Brazil's face of the World Cup.

Since Luiz Felipe Scolari returned to take the Brazil job 20 months ago they have not lost a game in which Luiz has played the full 90 minutes.


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