Brazil will be without captain Thiago Silva for their World Cup semi-final against Germany after FIFA on Monday rejected an appeal against his yellow card, denting home hopes of lifting the trophy for the sixth time.
The hosts were already missing their most talented player, injured striker Neymar, but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said his side had absorbed the disappointment of his absence and were looking forward to Tuesday's match in Belo Horizonte.
"The team will miss the way he plays, the happiness. I'm sure that tomorrow they will play for Neymar, but also for themselves and, above all, for the goal of the whole group - to qualify for the final," Scolari told reporters. "He has done his share, now it's up to us, myself, Thiago, the others and all the Brazilian people. This is the match where we are playing for everything we dreamed of, for each and every one of us, and for Neymar."
Latin American fans are hoping Brazil meet their arch-rivals Argentina in soccer's biggest showcase at the Maracana stadium, but the Netherlands and Germany stand in their way as four heavyweight teams slug it out in the semi-finals.
First up are Brazil, who have yet to shine at a tournament in which they are feeling the weight of 200 million people's expectations on their shoulders. Anything but winning the World Cup on home soil would be a national catastrophe, even though Brazil have won the trophy five times, more than any other nation.
When Colombia defender Juan Zuniga clattered into Neymar with his knee in the quarter-finals, breaking a bone in his back, there was a mixture of shock and anger among Brazilians who knew the injury was a major setback to their chances.
FIFA ruled on Monday that Zuniga would not be punished for the challenge, because rules prevent the ruling body from revisiting an incident that is dealt with by the referee on the pitch.
Thiago Silva, however, was still fuming. "In my opinion, it was a cowardly tackle," the suspended captain said. "I am a defender and you don't do that. There's no way you put a knee behind a player to get a ball in front, unless you want to cause a certain situation."
"Little artistry left"
The foul was one of 54 committed during a highly physical match, yet only four yellow cards were shown by referee Carlos Velasco Carballo who was widely criticised for losing control of the game and allowing players to become increasingly violent.
Nevertheless, he is among the 15 teams of referees and linesmen asked to stay for the semi-finals and final, along with Japan's Yuichi Nishimura who infuriated Croatia in the opening match by awarding a soft penalty to Brazil with the scores level at 1-1. The hosts went on to win 3-1, Neymar scoring twice.
FIFA rejected a German newspaper allegation that referees had been instructed to hold off awarding yellow cards.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has urged match officials to intervene if Brazil play rough against Germany. "There's precious little left of that traditional Brazilian style of soccer, that artistic style of playing that we all know so well," Loew said. "For sure, Brazil still have good technical players. But they're playing more robustly than any other team here and they have been trying to break up their opponents' attack that way... At the end of the day it's up to the referee to come up with the correct punishment," Loew said.
Germany will not go into the game unprepared
No European team has won one of the previous six World Cups in Latin America, and assistant coach Hansi Flick said Germany been studying a giant data base collected by a team of about 50 students at Cologne's sport university for the last two years. That information, combined with scouting reports, has been used for detailed analyses of Brazil and their players.
"We're very, very well-prepared and we're looking forward to playing Brazil," Flick told reporters when asked about how Germany planned to end the dominance of Latin American teams when playing in their own region. "We've been working on this project for the last two years and our entire system has been built up for that."
Germany are undefeated in Brazil but have not faced a Latin American team yet. Their four wins were against Portugal, the United States, Algeria and France with a draw against Ghana.
The other semi-final, between Argentina and the Netherlands, will be played in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, and while the South Americans will look to forward Lionel Messi for inspiration, the Dutch have their own match-winner in Arjen Robben.
Messi, who many believe is the best footballer of his generation, has lit up the tournament with four goals and intelligent passing, and with him in the team Argentina have a good chance of winning the World Cup for the third time.
Di stefano dies
Messi took time out to pay his respects to former Real Madrid forward Alfredo Di Stefano, who died in Madrid aged 88. "The world lost a legend today, Don Alfredo Di Stefano," Messi wrote on Facebook of a man considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. "An amazing man on and off the field."